‘What Happened On September 11’ is a moving doc for young minds

Anyone who lived through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will likely have the memory of that day seared into their brain forever. But for kids born after 9/11, the events of that dark day may just seem like a distant piece of history.

What Happened on September 11


RELEASE DATE: 9/11/2019
DIRECTOR: Amy Schatz
Amy Schatz delivers a poignant, palatable record of the scale of devastation and potential motivations behind the tragic event that would alter the course of history.

Those young people are the target audience for HBO‘s What Happened On September 11, a moving, easy-to-digest documentary exploring the macro details of a tragic event that would alter the course of history. Emmy-winning director Amy Schatz (HBO’s Song of ParklandThe Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm) delivers a poignant, palatable record of the scale of devastation and potential motivations behind the terrorist attacks that transpired 18 years ago.

Schatz’s success in describing intricate and saddening subjects for children lies in her ability to tactfully streamline the events. She maintains a tight grasp on what’s contextually pertinent and comprehensible, without disrespecting the true complexity of the matter. This balance makes the 30-minute documentary ideal viewing for kids trying to wrap their heads around 9/11.

hbo what happened on september 11 documentary review HBO/YouTube

The film follows young students on a class trip to the site of the terrorist attacks and the 9/11 Tribute Museum in Lower Manhattan. The children hear touching personal accounts from school guides Stephen Kern and Matthew Crawford. Kern, who worked on the North Tower’s 62nd floor, recalls the evacuation and collapse. Crawford’s father was among the 343 New York firefighters killed in the South Tower. 

What Happened On September 11 includes a brief sidebar on the importance of the World Trade Center and lower Manhattan, as well as the consequences of U.S. dealings in Afghanistan, directly addressing Al-Qaeda’s involvement and the attackers’ possible motivations. The documentary shows an American-born Muslim teacher explaining to her daughter that the terrorists’ motives are completely incompatible with the core tenets of Islam.

hbo what happened on september 11 review HBO/YouTube

At its core, What Happened On September 11, is a redemptive film. Schatz doesn’t shy away from the short- and long-term destruction that stemmed from the World Trade Center attacks, but she also delivers a hopeful, delicate memorial to the people and places lost on that fateful day.

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Kahron Spearman

Kahron Spearman

Kahron Spearman is a music and film critic whose work can also regularly be regularly found in the Austin Chronicle.