Through the Lens of First Response

  • February 2, 2024
Jules and Gédéon Naudet sit side by side on stage at 9/11 Museum

As young adults, brothers Jules and Gédéon Naudet moved to the United States from France to pursue careers in film. In the summer of 2001, they began the process of creating a documentary that would follow the evolution of a ‘probie’ NYC firefighter into an accomplished veteran. Over several weeks, as they began recording the experiences of rookie firefighter, Tony Benatos, the brothers slowly secured the trust of the rest of the Engine 7, Ladder 1, Battalion 1 firefighters.

On 9/11, the fire company received a call to respond to a gas leak. To capture as much footage as possible, Jules accompanied responding firefighters and Battalion Chief Joseph Pfeifer as they investigated the gas leak while Gédéon stayed with Benetatos to tend to the firehouse.

While at the site of the leak, Jules’ camera was rolling when the unusually loud sound of a plane engine roared above them. Pointing towards the source of the sound, Jules caught the moment Flight 11 struck the North Tower on camera. With newfound responsibility, the company made their way to the World Trade Center. Jules remained close to Chief Pfeifer while he set up a command post and gave orders from the lobby of the North Tower. His footage captured the events of that morning from within the lobby and the heightened activity by the immense emergency response it required. Nearly 2,000 police officers from the NYPD, over 200 fire companies from the FDNY, and many additional first responders would respond to the events unfolding at the World Trade Center.

Back in the firehouse, firefighter Benetatos and Gédéon heard a loud boom and raced outside. Upon seeing a gaping hole in the side of the North Tower, Gédéon chose to head towards lower Manhattan, camera in hand, in search of his brother. Gédéon recorded his journey downtown and the reactions of people on the street trying to figure out what had happened while they helped each other evacuate the area. On the way, he captured the impact of the second plane, Flight 175, into the South Tower. The collapse of both towers would prevent Gédéon from reaching the World Trade Center. Uncertain of his brother’s safety, he returned to the firehouse. Fortunately, Jules and Gédéon were reunited later that day, both physically unscathed.

Together the brothers determined that the footage they had captured separately needed to be combined into a tribute film, telling the story of first responders. They synthesized what they filmed into a documentary titled 9/11 to display the heroism and valor that first responders embodied during the attacks. Since then, Gédéon donated his camera to the collection at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

This September, participants around the world can see Jules and Gédéon Naudet share their stories, in their own words, as a part of the 2024 Anniversary Digital Learning Experience program. Register for this free program today.

by Gaby Sarmiento, Education Specialist

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