Today Yard 44 and NBC News Studios are thrilled to announce the release of their critically acclaimed film ‘Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11’. Officially selected by the Toronto International Film Festival as its centrepiece film to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, this unique and innovative documentary will air on SKY and NOW TV in January 2022 in time for the BAFTA TV Awards.
Directed by filmmakers David Belton (Shooting Dogs, Captive) and Bjørn Johnson (Don’t F**k with Cats, Bad Sport), ‘Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11’ unearths a treasure trove of hidden video testimony to create an original, immersive story of 9/11 and its life-changing impact – both then and now. A revelation midway through the film delivers an emotionally uplifting portrait of the power of the human spirit.
In the months following the attacks, nearly six hundred people – survivors and eyewitnesses from New York, Shanksville and the Pentagon – entered a simple plywood video booth created by the artist, Ruth Sergel. Inside this safe space, ordinary people used a self-operated camera to share their personal memories and record their deepest feelings of trauma and loss.
For twenty years, this remarkable archive remained virtually unseen, until it was rediscovered by Johnson who, together with Belton, envisioned a film that brought new meaning to a much-told historical moment. Weaving dozens of the personal testimonies together with archival footage of the attacks, the result is a startling and visceral work that delivers a raw, confessional intensity rarely seen in conventional documentary.
Director Bjørn Johnson said, “This was a deeply personal film to make. Having experienced the sudden loss of my mum just before 9/11, the instant life-changing impact of the attacks had always struck a powerful chord. For years I wanted to make a film that explored the trauma I imagined the victim’s families were going through. A trauma that I suspected mirrored my own. Discovering Ruth Sergel’s incredible archive collection finally gave me the chance to do that. Her simple self-operated video booth offered people that rare thing in life, a safe place free of questions or agenda, to talk openly and of their own accord. The emotional, transcendent truth that emerged was unlike anything I had ever seen before and became absolutely integral to the tone of our film.”
In a twist which broadens the narrative beyond its subject matter, some of the original contributors return twenty years later to a new video booth to reflect on living with their experience. Intertwining hope with grief, joy with loss, the film becomes a profound and timely meditation on the power of human resilience.
Director David Belton said, “When we rebuilt the booth we knew we had to honour the same principles from twenty years earlier: people should speak in their own words and in their own time. Making the film through the pandemic meant we saw how the people who returned to the booth were, quietly and unostentatiously, offering us a guide about how it’s possible to grieve and move past traumatic events. Lisa, Mary, Donn – so many others too – were giving us hope, showing us that we are resilient and that, in the words of Eric, ‘it’s ok to be not ok, to embrace discomfort. Until it passes’. After two years of so much unexpected grief and loss, their words are both profoundly moving and uplifting.”