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Reminiscences of Ruth Sergel : oral history, 2003.

Creator: Sergel, Ruth
Project: September 11, 2001 response and recovery oral history project.
(see all project interviews)
Phys. Desc. :transcript 64 pages sound recordings 2 audio discs (110 min) : digital ; 3 in.
Location: Columbia Center for Oral History
Full CLIO record >>

Biographical Note

Filmmaker, Voices of 9/11 and here is New York.

Scope and Contents

Childhood: Born in Tribeca. Parents are artists. Education: Swarthmore College, studied political science. Always wanted to be a filmmaker, but out of college did social service work, then became a film technician and worked up to making own films. Makes short fiction films; goal is to bring high production value to certain people as she usually looks for people who don't have a "voice," or high level of technical skill. Writes scripts, workshops with population she is focusing on, and then works with actor, films script. Explains how this ties into work with Voices of 9/11. 9/11: was at eye doctor's in the East Village, her pupils were dilated and when she finished her appointment found out about the WTC. Could not see clearly because of dilation treatment; wandered around but did notice absence of traffic. Had difficulty using cell phone because of eye treatment, call mother in Washington, D.C. to tell her to get her disabled siser; mother was disoriented, hangs up, and south tower falls. Goes home and gets photography gear; first hears rumors of Middle Eastern terrorists and is reminded of Oklahoma City bombing; believes these accusations are racist, but slowly realizes they are true. Recollects certain photographs she took that day. Was asked by friends to leave the city; she didn't want to and then people start rumors about the Empire State Building being under attack and wonders why she didn't leave. Recollects how city below 14th Street was shut down and how quiet it was. Several memories of the time are hazy; she realized only later she was in shock for a few months following 9/11. Someone set up camera to videotape downtown after second tower has hit, group of people gathered around as if it were a "communal hearth." Volunteers as photoeditor for Here is New York. Critical of media portrayal of firefighters, media in general. Discusses how people remember stories of 9/11; relaying bad news among group of people; process and criteria of selecting pictures from many submissions. Considered volunteering as photo editor to be her way to respond to 9/11; also, that this was a healthy response. Idea for Voices of 9/11 came from a number of sources. Discusses how media changed the way people described 9/11: "And so there was all these things that were clearly being taken over by all the media coverage, as opposed to what people were really saying" (p. 26) Talks about people who helped conceptualize Voice of 9/11, as well as discusses the process, circumstances, and logistics of filming. Discusses how therapy is not the best method of recovery, and how filming provided an alternate form of therapy. Discusses photographs as sort of therapy for people and also mentions how few photographs are of people who jumped from towers, says there's cultural denial about jumpers. Mentions people going to Pennsylvania to get stories from people who were affected there. Talks about opening of exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washing, D.C. and how they got a booth for people to tell stories into the Pentagon. Emphasizes that what is important about the stories is that they show the humanity of the subjects, rather than political viewpoints. Also discusses importance of letting viewer have control over what they see; distrusts media outlets because she feels they would not do a good job of representing the stories. Felt that exhibition needed to reflect empowerment, community of New Yorkers. Discusses financial problems of project. Talks about growing up Jewish and how historical memory affected her feelings towards 9/11. Discusses involvement with people who told their stories, and wonders how and where they are now.


Access Conditions

Copyright by The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 2003. Permission required to cite, quote, and reproduce. Contact repository for information.

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