Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11. As a Canadian filmmaker, I was working on a movie set when my wife called me and told me to turn on the TV. When I saw what was happening in New York City, I remember thinking, “This is it; we’re all done for.”
Watching one of the world’s most beautiful and populated cities be ravaged by evil in a matter of moments, it felt like a protective veil had been lifted. If such darkness could fall on New York, what would stop it from teeming to the ends of the earth?
The sad truth is that since 9/11, we’ve all noticed the hatred persist in the form of more terrorist attacks and mass shootings around the world. Over the last 18 years, we’ve all gotten colder, more suspicious and less trusting. That day marked the end of an era and the start of a much more somber one.
Living in that kind of mellow mood, which has seeped into the film industry, too, made me tired of documenting all the evil and ugly. So when I was asked to help produce a documentary about 9/11, I was less than excited. Who wants to relive that day? I sarcastically told my fellow filmmaker who called me about the opportunity that “I’ll work on a documentary only if it’s about blooming flowers.”
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But what I soon learned is that my friend proposed a very different 9/11 story, one that wasn’t dark and gloomy. In fact, it would be far more beautiful than any blooming flower.
The place was Gander, Newfoundland, a tiny town located quite literally on the edge of Canada. In 2001, they had six traffic lights and less than 10,000 citizens. But because it was the closest North American land to Europe, Gander was the landing spot for the planes en route to New York on 9/11 that were directed to land elsewhere.
Without qualm but with open hearts, the Gander citizens hosted strangers from around the world from more than 90 different countries for the next five days as flights remained on lockdown. They gave them places to sleep in their homes, schools and churches, served delicious homemade meals three times a day and provided comforting, open arms during that confusing time to people who desperately needed it, asking absolutely nothing in return.
To this day, the passengers who were welcomed by the Ganderites report that they found more than friends in those Canadians; they found family. And those were the beautiful people I had the privilege of meeting and capturing as we filmed the documentary about their 9/11 story in "YOU ARE HERE: A Come From Away Story."
Getting to be part of that project wasn’t just paramount because of the Ganderites; it ended up posing as a personal turning point in my life as I witnessed that there is still so much good in this world even amongst the tragedy we see on a daily basis. In all my years as a filmmaker, I’ve never seen people cheer and applaud for any story as much as they do for what happened in Gander on the week of 9/11.
What transpired in that tiny Canadian town hits home for us everyday individuals whose lives, however indirectly, were forever changed after 9/11. I know I speak for most Americans and Canadians when I say that I remember where I was during the attack, what I was doing and who I was worried about. We remember the wave of darkness that swept the U.S. as it seemed everything good has been squashed beneath the fallen twin towers. We remember wondering if it was the end of the world.
The reason why the story told in "YOU ARE HERE" is so crucial for today is that it presents a true narrative. In today’s fast-turning news cycle, which often highlights the negative and scary to create a dramatic story, what happened in Gander after 9/11 shows us the truth: there is always light shining between the broken fragments of a hurting world if only we know where to find it.