French Filmmakers Discuss Iconic 9/11 Footage From Inside World Trade Center

By Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
September 6, 2021 Updated: September 6, 2021

By Peter Sblendorio
From New York Daily News

NEW YORK—The French filmmaker who shot the only clear video of the World Trade Center’s North Tower being struck by an airliner on Sept. 11, 2001, thought it was an accident, not realizing he was capturing a moment that would forever change history.

Jules Naudet and his brother Gedeon were working on a small documentary about an FDNY rookie in 2001 when hijacked planes struck the twin towers in lower Manhattan on that tragic day.

“I’m doing this kind of cliche shot of the World Trade Center, panning to the firefighters in the middle of the street,” Jules told the Daily News. “At 8:46, we hear this very loud roar. … I remember, as I’m filming the firefighters, I look up and I see, behind two buildings, an American Airlines flight, because I could read the logo on the tail.

“I said, ‘That’s very strange,’ and [as a] reflex or I don’t know what, I turn my camera, and that’s where I film that horrible image of the first plane crashing into the tower.”

The horrific footage they caught on camera that day—including rare scenes from inside one of the twin towers before they both came crashing down—was later made into a documentary, “9/11,″ that was originally released in 2002. CNN will air the film Sunday at 8 p.m. ET as the 20th anniversary of the tragedy approaches.

“Twenty years later, I think there’s a whole generation who might not have seen it, and just knows of Sept. 11 as a historical date and not really have an idea of what happened,” Jules told The News ahead of the 20th anniversary of the attacks at ground zero, at the Pentagon and on the planes remain the deadliest terrorist act in history.

Jules had accompanied firefighters that morning for a standard assignment near the World Trade Center. Gedeon had remained at the firehouse with the rookie firefighter they were filming. He quickly made his way downtown toward the towers after learning of the attack, filming people along the way.

He says he’d “never been more afraid in my life,” but was in awe of the firefighters who risked their lives to save others.

“I was looking for my brother, and it was a sense of complete fear, but not paralyzed fear, because I knew I had to find him,” Gedeon told The News. “I felt responsible toward our parents if anything happened to him.”

Jules initially assumed the first plane crash was a bizarre accident and followed firefighters into the North Tower with his camera rolling.

“It’s one of these crazy things where you’re right inside the eye of the storm, you have no clue what’s happening, but anyone 8,000 miles away, in front of a TV, knows much more than you do,” Jules said.

“And then managing to get out, but still not realizing what happened. Radios are chaotic. It’s only, ‘Mayday! Mayday!’ ”

That footage appears in the “9/11″ film, which is billed as the only documentary to feature video from inside the World Trade Center that day.

Jules ultimately spent about an hour and 20 minutes inside the North Tower, he said. The brothers reunited hours later, without realizing what the other had been doing at the scene.

“By the time I arrived down at the World Trade Center, the second plane hit the second tower, the South Tower, that I managed to catch on camera,” Gedeon recalled. “Then everybody basically ran out.”

The brothers hope their film honors the firefighters and other officials who responded that day.

“Firefighters, police, EMT, and regular civilians did manage to save around 15,000 people on that day,” Gedeon said. “It’s incredible when you think about it.”

“I think one of the unique things from our documentary is really that perspective alongside the firefighters, alongside the people who were there, as it’s happening,” Jules said. “Especially for a younger generation, who are such a visual generation, to see it in the way we filmed, just because of the nature of it, almost could’ve been filmed if we had iPhones now, in a way, because it’s so close.”

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