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Liberty Street: Alive at Ground Zero

5.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Review

Peter Josyph's documentary LIBERTY STREET: ALIVE AT GROUND ZERO should be required viewing by all Americans. The emphasis is on the word required this is a brilliant work of art and a crucially important film which serves as a chilling elegy to the most horrendous crime committed on the American mainland and, as we know, it is a crime which remains unpunished to this day. LIBERTY STREET: ALIVE AT GROUND ZERO is anchored at 114 Liberty Street, an apartment building located across the street from the World Trade Center. The film does not recycle the well-known news footage of the 9/11 attacks, but instead incorporates never-before-seen video footage shot by one of the building s residents and new footage of Ground Zero and the surrounding neighborhoods in the weeks following the destruction of the World Trade Center. Much of the film is difficult to endure: the sigh of demolition crews crushing the bent metal frames of the destroyed Twin Towers and plopping them into dump trucks to be shipped away is still heartbreaking. The remains of the 110-story buildings are literally twisted and crushed like giant soda cans, when they are scooped up and hauled off out of sight and, perhaps, out of mind. Out of sight is a ruling element here, as Josyph bravely ignored a No Cameras, No Photo policy surrounding Ground Zero to capture the clearing of the site. It is also a testament to his talents that he not only filmed in the area but framed the demolition within startling artistry (this is one of the best-looking DV features I ve seen). Also featured here are interviews with those who were on the scene at 9/11 and in the days after. Tenants of 114 Liberty Street talk about the surrealism of witnessing the disaster from the relative safety of their apartments across the street. A contractor goes through the building s apartments to see repairs will be needed (one tenant was at his desk when a radiator came flying through the air, through his window, and smack on the desk just inches from where he was seated). A paramedic who discovered a severed hand lying on the street muses on where it came from and compares it (in a curious lapse of taste) to the Sistine Chapel s depiction of God s hand animating Adam to life. Beyond the wreckage, Liberty Street: Alive at Ground Zero also documents how life slowly came back to the ruined neighborhood. Neon signs in bars and sex toy emporiums light up the evening streets. Chinese restaurants and parking lots open for business. Buses and ferries resume normal traffic. Even the subways are running, and in an attempt to force normalcy someone took black paint to the words World Trade Center at the station that fed into the lost buildings. Out of sight, out of mind. For the record, as of this writing no person has ever been apprehended, arrested or punished for the 9/11 attacks. Not the architects of the attacks, nor anyone in the federal government for permitting the lapses in intelligence and for ignoring of repeated pre-9/11 warnings that an attack was imminent. LIBERTY STREET: ALIVE AT GROUND ZERO reminds us of a tragedy that many people in power would prefer to forget and only a buffoon would imagine the sight of Iraqis stuffing ballot boxes is the solution to what transpired at the World Trade Center. Thank you, Peter Josyph, for LIBERTY STREET: ALIVE AT GROUND ZERO. This is an extraordinary achievement. --Phil Hall, filmthreat.com

Considering how much 9/11 changed the world ... it still remains a subject somehow beyond our comprehension. We see it, but we don t really see. In books, periodicals and on television screens, we relive the experience minute by minute, hoping to understand an event, which, by its very nature, we can t hope to process. What was it like to be in the buildings? The planes? What separated those who lived from those who died, just minutes or feet apart? Even larger in scope than those two frantic, fiery hours on that crisp Tuesday morning is the four-year journey of grief, resolve, endurance and hope that overwhelms Lower Manhattan to this day. This is precisely the story that interests director Peter Josyph, and his LIBERTY STREET: ALIVE AT GROUND ZERO is the first documentary to capture the disturbing normalcy that unfolded in the months and years after the most widely viewed disaster in American history. Part guerilla expose, part historical recreation, the recurring theme of Liberty Street is one of revitalization. In a stirring montage halfway through the film, Josyph takes us on a tour of the new New York, integrating footage of the WTC site into the traditional images of the island s bridges, delis and street corners. After all, for us who live here, the gaping hole at Ground Zero, as well as the memories and the sense of loss, have become part of our way of life. The film opens to a grim sight at 114 Liberty Street, the residential building that somehow survived the destruction and serves as the center of the documentary. Looking out through a window on the ground floor, we watch as debris is sorted and, by virtue of Josyph s camera, documented. There s burnt paper with red stains; a child s cup; a lining from a WTC window; a thick layer of ash. In one of the film s many title cards, which Josyph uses in lieu of any formal narration, he captures the ever-present dread of the city in a powerful yet understated way: Most of the dead are in the toxic dust. Moving forward, Josyph jumps between three major themes. The first is a recreation of that awful day, brought to life through the home movies of one of the residents of 114 Liberty, Mark Wainger. These never-before-seen shots, turned away from the chaos towards an average city street, are almost as arresting as the footage of the towers themselves, for it puts this tragedy into a believable, manageable context. The lack of narration throughout the film is equally arresting. Those paper-strewn, deserted streets say all that needs to be said. Josyph then focuses on the immediate aftermath, not only at the site but in the way it affected everyday life across the city. From the tenants at 114 Liberty, we hear how surreal it was to watch these horrific events from the safety of their homes. Josyph also gives us front row seats to signs of progress.... We see the wreckage removed from the site via bulldozer, truck and barge, until the final artifact is hauled away. LIBERTY STREET is a moving experience because it balances all of these themes and stands apart not so much as a 9/11 film, but as a post-9/11 film. It s the story of what happened after the big story; a day-to-day journal of the endless resolve and commitment that emerged from the dust. In some sense, Josyph has brought the big picture down to street level, and turned our attention to everyday people climbing a seemingly-endless mountain of obstacles, unfazed and undaunted.... LIBERTY STREET, for the first time, grounds 9/11 in a sense of the place and the lives it left intact, despite the irrevocable damage. After all these years, it allows us to see the tragedy in a way we never have before. --Stephen Snyder, The Downtown Express

The psyche of a city still reeling from 9/11 is explored in filmmaker Peter Josyph's pensive meditation on a population yearning for a return to normalcy following historic tragedy. In the weeks after the World Trade Center fell, the residents of 114 Liberty Street an apartment complex located directly across from the former site of the Twin Towers struggled to comprehend the overwhelming magnitude of the attacks perpetrated on their city, and watched helplessly as the remnants of two giants were carted away truckload by truckload to an out-of-the-way landfill. In ignoring the strict no cameras, no photo policy on filming at the site known as Ground Zero, Josyph captured some of the most intimate footage of the demolition ever released to the public. As Josyph contrasts this haunting footage with interviews of those who witnessed the destruction firsthand, the effects of both the attack and the resulting clean-up efforts tell an affecting tale of what it means to be a survivor. --Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide

About the Director

Peter Josyph is a filmmaker, actor, painter, photographer, and an author whose books include LIBERTY STREET: ENCOUNTERS AT GROUND ZERO, and ADVENTURES IN READING CORMAC McCARTHY.

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: Documentary
  • Directors: Peter Josyph
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Studio: Lost Medallion Productions
  • DVD Release Date: January 11, 2011
  • Run Time: 118 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B004IJCGZ6
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #343,303 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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I saw this film at a documentary film festival in Wales, Great Britain. Instead of portentous verbal overlays and musical accompaniment, Joseph lets the agonizing process of cleaning up the Ground Zero site, the sounds of its machinery, tumbling piles of masonry and metal, and the voices of those workers immured in the ruins of the two great towers in the well of sadness left in their wake tell the story unadorned. The visual images are spectacular as well as horrifying. It's almost like a medical documentary: you see a great city in the process of cauterizing its worst wound and beginning a long healing process. This is not an "entertainment" in the classic sense, any more than a long, complex poem like "Leaves of Grass" would be; it's an extended meditation in sights and sounds, and you will need to set a couple of hours aside, preferably undistracted, to do justice to its richness and gravity. A stunning accomplishment.
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I have seen this documentary at the Pioneer Theater and at a film festival in Brooklyn. It is by far the best film dealing with the subject of 9/11. It is so beautifully shot with great interviews, great music; its stunning and emotional. It makes me proud to be a New Yorker.
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Sometimes it takes a while for the really important art of any given era to gain the recognition it deserves. This may be especially true of the period after 9/11, when political opportunism, foreign wars and the historical proximity of the attacks turned Ground Zero into one of the most appropriated and ideologically charged spaces in modern American history. Peter Josyph's Liberty Street, a book and an independently financed and produced documentary film, may have been missed by many first time around. Ten years on from the attacks, both book and film should be automatic inclusions in any canons of key 9/11 art.
Josyph has important things to say about ordinary New Yorkers' experience of the attacks and their treatment during the recovery effort. With economy, elegance and anger, Liberty Street traces the abandonment of local communities abutting Ground Zero by federal, state and city agencies, even as the site was sanctified as a totem of populist, democratic values. Josyph also has significant things to say about the difficulties--and meanings--of making art at Ground Zero, particularly visual art, in a climate when simply pointing a camera at the perimeter wall exposed ordinary citizens to arrest and detention under directives Josyph describes as authoritarian and unconstitutional. Liberty Street responds to this erosion of civic experience with a visual and prose poetry that subverts these tendencies, drawing on influences that include Whitman, Thoreau, Ginsberg, Burroughs and Godard.
Book and film do these things in different ways. Each needs the other to nourish, complement and explicate its own representation of the site and the richly drawn characters who bring it alive and inscribe it with meaning.
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I wanted to take time to write a review of this movie because, after seeing it at the Pioneer Theater in January 2006, I wanted a copy. I finally own one and I plan to see it again and again. It is difficult to characterize how and why this film is unique based on the fact that so much has been written about this time of great tragedy. Trust me, it is.

I'll do my best to explain. Mr. Josyph paints a picture of a catastrophe at the same time that he creates his personal view. It may be a cliché that by focusing on an array of people touched by this tragedy, he paints a picture of the humanity in us all. These strangers became friends, not only for him, but for me as I view this DVD in the security of my home. He furthers my understanding not only through the people he meets, but through the objects he discovers along the way. It's easy to explain how people can suggest the complexity of the time. But how can a ruined barber pole that continued to tick even though it was blown to bits be etched in my mind and provide an appreciation of the heartbreak and the glory of what it is to be human? I could say that Donavin, a carpenter who worked to rebuild a personal and, at the same time, a professional devastation, is for the first time joyous. I hear him saying, "It takes a lickin, but it keeps on tickin!" and I realize this life force is a main ingredient of the film.

Is this film about a barber pole on Liberty Street? No. The sequence lasted for only a few minutes. It was one fragment of Josyph's `walk' through the neighborhood. As I understand from reading his book LIBERTY STREET: ENCOUNTERS AT GROUND ZERO, he had no real object in mind as he began his walk just weeks after the attacks. He was compelled to go to the site with his camera.
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