Cable Docs Look Ahead, Back As 9/11 Anniversary Approaches

As cable networks mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with new documentaries, one subject elevates the conversation beyond anger and grief: the construction of the 1,776-feet-tall One World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.

Smithsonian Channel’s Crowning New York, which premiered on Sept. 7, takes viewers from the collapse of the Twin Towers through the planning and building of One WTC and lingers on the engineering and placement of the 408-foot spire and beacon at the top. Metaphors abound: the light at the end of the tunnel, “an exclamation point of a wonderful journey” and the crown jewel of the New York City skyline.

History’s Rebuilding the World Trade Center, which premieres on Sept. 11, is something a bit different. Filmmaker Marcus Robinson calls it “quite an unconventional film.”

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Robinson has been filming and painting portraits at the World Trade Center site since the early stages of construction in 2006. He used as many as 13 time-lapse cameras to document every aspect. His film blends the voices and faces of the people who worked on the new buildings with time-lapsed views of the construction.

He received a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for the film, first shown last fall on Channel 4 in the U.K., at a cocktail reception on Sept. 3 on the 68th floor of 4 World Trade Center.

“Right from the start, I wanted to make a parable, like an allegorical tale, something that would be beautiful, uplifting, allowing the story of the rebuilding to take on a higher significance than just a documentary about a building site,” Robinson told The Wire. “Something about the human spirit and about creation, creativity, and all these amazing capacities that people have to make something special.”

He hopes to stay through the planned building of Tower 2 and Tower 3 at the complex, though he is “now back to completely funding this on my own.” The money comes in through the sale of his on-site paintings, which can be seen at

The new National 9/11 Memorial & Museum at the complex hosted a Sept. 4 screening of another new documentary, National Geographic Channel’s 9/10: The Final Hours, which premiered on Sept. 7 and offers a unique look at the world on the day before the world changed. The documentary shows extraordinary snippets of footage taken on Sept. 10, 2011, interwoven with interviews of people who worked inside the World Trade Center, those who encountered terrorist Mohamed Atta and officials who were first on the scene.

“Tonight we explore what happened on the eve of that moment,” Nat Geo CEO Courteney Monroe told a hushed crowd in the museum’s elegant yet Spartan theater.

It’s a clever time trick to go back and voyeur how insignificant our problems were before an era of innocence collapsed in an instant.

The film showcases some obvious interviews, with Howard Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 employees in the disaster, for example, and Jan Ramirez, chief curator of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

But the more-fascinating footage is supplied by lesser-known players and survivors, including George Delgado, head bartender at The Greatest Bar on Earth on the 107th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and Michael Tuohey, the customer- service representative for US Airways who checked in Atta for his flight to Boston.

Viewers may get the feeling Democratic mayoral candidate Mark Green, eventual winner of the delayed Sept. 11 primary, might have defeated Republican nominee Michael Bloomberg based on the electorate’s vibe on Sept. 10.

After the screening, guests were invited to take a self-guided walking tour through the museum, a somber experience for each who attended.

ISIS vs. ISIL: Even the Acronym Vexes

The ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) vs. ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) debate over what to call the terrorists wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria continues to confuse. Take CNN, where the network uses ISIS exclusively, while Obama Administration officials use ISIL, and often in the same conversations between anchors and officials about the same topic. It can, at times, seem like a contest of wills, with neither side willing to budge.

Apparently, the terrorists wanted to be called neither ISIS nor ISIL, claiming several months back that they were now just the Islamic State, period, since they said they have broken down national borders, according to The Washington Post.

CNN said the claim to being the Islamic State is “deeply offensive” to many Muslims, which is why it is sticking with ISIS rather than the new, shortened name.

The Associated Press explained back in June why it had adopted ISIL rather than ISIS to describe the al-Qaida (AP’s spelling as well) spinoff now leading Sunni militants.

“In Arabic, the group is known as Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, or the Islamic State of Iraq and al- Sham,” AP said.

That would seem to make it “ISIA,” but the trail does not end there. “The term ‘al-Sham’ refers to a region stretching from southern Turkey through Syria to Egypt (also including Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan),” said AP.

“The group’s stated goal is to restore an Islamic state, or caliphate, in this entire area. The standard English term for this broad territory is ‘the Levant.’”

AP called ISIL the most accurate translation, reflecting the group’s desire to extend its caliphate across the Middle East, while “ISIS” suggests the group is limiting itself to Iraq and Syria. Besides, it added, the U.N. uses ISIS.

“The term ISIL also avoids the common misunderstanding, stemming from the initials ISIS, that the group’s name is the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,’ ” AP said. “(‘Iraq and Greater Syria’ might be an acceptable translation, since Greater Syria also implies the entire area of the Levant.) But saying just ‘Iraq and Syria’ suggests incorrectly that the group’s aspirations are limited to these two present-day countries.”

Then why does CNN use ISIS rather than ISIL, given that the AP, the U.N. and POTUS have all opted for the latter?

“The group originally identified itself as ISIS, so that is the name we are continuing with at this time,” a CNN spokesperson said.

Frankly, The Wire doesn’t care whether the group is called ISIS or ISIL, as long as it is called to account for the murder of two journalists and countless other atrocities.

— John Eggerton