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Gestation Period Is Over for Project Rebirth

Gestation Period Is Over for Project Rebirth

Jan 03, 2011
By By: Dianne Renzulli | The Battery Broadsheet | The Battery Broadsheet

After eight years of filming the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site and recording the intimate stories of nine September 11th-survivors, Project Rebirth housed at 163 Williams Street, is about to be born. The feature-length documentary film “Rebirth,” directed by Project Rebirth’s founder Jim Whitaker, will premier on January 21st at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in Utah. Simultaneously, the organization is embarking on its long-term mission of educating people about grief and trauma though a real-life historical record.

Caitlin Olsen, executive director of Project Rebirth, recalls that “Jim was in New York City on September 11th for a friend’s wedding, and they had to decide whether to go forward with the celebration. Jim went down to the site and while he was there he had a vision that some day it wouldn’t look like this.” Mr. Whitaker began filming the redevelopment process and the stories of nine families in 2002. From that point until now, he and his team have gathered 900 hours of footage. Less than two of those hours have been edited into the film, but the full body of film will be kept and disseminated to professional training programs for police and firefighters, educators, and mental health professionals who are teaching students about the grieving process, dealing with people grieving, and experiencing traumatic events themselves. As the project has accumulated footage, it has shared these resources with educational programs at the New York Police Department, the Arlington, Virginia Fire Department, Georgetown University, and Columbia University.

“There is no other place where the knowledge learned about mass trauma can be shared and disseminated to professionals, and through them to the community,” explains Brian Rafferty, chairman of Project Rebirth. “When we’re finished releasing the film, the monies raised by it will be reinvested in our programs for first responders, volunteers and other professionals dealing with traumatic events,” he adds. “We’re pretty good at dealing with physical disaster but after the relief organizations leave, the psychological trauma emerges and no one is left but the people in the communities to deal with its long term effects.”

It took $9.5 million in donations from the community to make “Rebirth.” Donors include the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; the Aon Foundation; Oppenheimer Funds; and Keefe, Bruyette and Woods; and Pace University.

The film ends with a call to action for local first responders (such as police, fire fighters, hospitals, counselors, and educators) to use Project Rebirth’s content to help people understand the events of 9/11 and use this knowledge to deal better with trauma and grief. “We want to better train our first responders, volunteers and professionals for more resiliency, to help them understand the grief they are dealing with and make them more resilient in the face of the experience,” says Ms. Olsen.

A four minute version of “Rebirth” is currently on view at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum Preview site on Vesey Street between Church Street and Broadway.


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