Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Answering the Call: Ground Zero's Volunteers


ANSWERING THE CALL: GROUND ZERO’S VOLUNTEERS shares the stories of those who helped with the World Trade Center rescue mission in the days and weeks following the attack on September 11, 2001. Narrated by Kathleen Turner, the documentary features local and national emergency personnel, relief workers, and citizen volunteers who assisted with the effort to rescue any possible survivors and remove the mountain of debris from the site. Director Lou Angeli is a volunteer firefighter. He’s also a filmmaker who shot footage at Ground Zero, which is being shown for the first time in ANSWERING THE CALL.

Everyone has a story, and ANSWERING THE CALL attempts to fit in as many as possible. The problem with Angeli’s approach is that the dozens of accounts blur as the film skips from person to person. The numerous statements about the incomprehensible devastation and invocations of American resilience have value, but the film would have been better served by focusing on a few exceptional stories or providing a thorough overview of the operation than relying on platitudes. ANSWERING THE CALL is at its best when it details the rescue and recovery teams’ procedures on the pile, such as how to work safely on the rubble and how dogs were used. Although many people speak about their experiences, the sheer volume and unanimity keep any significant personal stories from breaking through the clutter. From a technical standpoint, the film makes beginner’s mistakes in employing unnecessary video effects and including distracting jump cuts. ANSWERING THE CALL’S noble intentions are unquestionable, but the scattershot reporting keeps it from amounting to little more than a string of too-similar witness testimonies.

In addition to honoring the victims and heroes, ANSWERING THE CALL may have a secondary agenda. One interviewee who stands out is a Scientologist. At first I thought he had a novel viewpoint, one which I hadn’t heard reported, and thus worthy of inclusion even if the man in question received undue time. When the issue of sick rescue workers was raised, the film goes in an unusual direction. In addressing respiratory illnesses and other sicknesses afflicting site workers, the film gives an unchallenged assertion on the effectiveness of an L. Ron Hubbard-designed regimen for these people. No medical doctors or conventionally treated patients speak in this section of the film, an odd omission considering the number of physicians who must have been on site and examined ill workers and volunteers after the fact.

Grade: C

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