The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, are still difficult to process, even 20 years on.
Equally hard to process is the fact that, somehow, two decades have passed since the world watched in horror as four hijacked planes resulted in the loss of 2,977 lives and the destruction of two buildings that had become icons of the Manhattan skyline.
Since the devastation of that day, we have come to know the stories of the people who showed remarkable courage in the face of the unthinkable, those who lost their lives and those who worked tirelessly in the aftermath to identify as many of the victims as possible.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we’ve rounded up some of the films and documentaries you can watch to deepen your understanding of the events of that day, honour the men and women who were lost and learn about the ongoing impact the attacks have had on the wider world.
NYC Epicenters 9/11→2021½
Spike Lee’s NYC Epicenters 9/11→2021½ explores the way in which New York handled both the 9/11 attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic and the surprising intersections between the two catastrophes.
Through interviews conducted with over 200 people, Lee’s film explores the stories of the residents of New York City who have learned to deal with loss and rebirth in the two decades since the Twin Towers fell.
In an interview with The New York Times, Lee said, “The most moving thing to me, not including archival footage, are the interviews with the people who lost loved ones. Those are hard interviews to do because they know why they’re there. And they know I got to ask tough questions.
“People just bare their souls. It was very, very emotional. For me, I can’t comprehend what they’re going through. But to see — it’s hard to ask questions where you know people are going to break down. That’s not easy; it’s not fun. But I got to ask those questions.”
Where to watch it: FOXTEL Docos
Michael Moore‘s 2004 documentary examines the complex relationships between the US government and the Bush family; and between the bin Laden family, the Saudi Arabian government, and the Taliban, while trying to uncover the true motivation for the war in Afghanistan.
The documentary also dives into George W. Bush’s presidency as a whole, his administration’s handling of the attacks and the way the war in Iraq was covered in the media.
Where to watch it: YouTube Movies
The story of United Flight 93 has become both a tragic representation of the lives lost on 9/11 and an inspiring tale of the people who bravely took a stand against some of the perpetrators of the attacks.
United 93 is a dramatised version of what occurred on the flight as a brave group of passengers fought to regain control of the aircraft from the terrorists.
In particular, the film — which was made with the cooperation of several of the passengers family members — focuses on the valiant efforts of Tom Burnett, Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick and Mark Bingham who plotted to storm the cockpit.
It was suspected that the terrorists’ intended target was the White House or Capitol Building in Washington DC. Thanks to the efforts of the men and women on the flight, it instead crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board but miraculously not harming anyone on the ground.
Where to watch it: YouTube Movies
Surviving 9/11 focuses on two intertwining narratives: the two-hour period over which the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, and the two decades since.
Directed by BAFTA-winning filmmaker Arthur Cary, the documentary combines accounts from American and British interviewees, with personal and public archives, allowing the story of that infamous day to unfold almost in real-time.
Surviving 9/11 explores how the lives of individuals continue to be affected by those events as well as the way in which the attacks affected the world outside of the US.
Where to watch it: TBD
9/11: Inside the President’s War Room
9/11: Inside the President’s War Room takes viewers into the 12 hours after the planes hit the Twin Towers through direct testimony from President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and senior staff such as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Bush’s chief of staff Andy Card.
Where to watch it: Apple TV+
Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror
According to Netflix, “This unflinching series documents the 9/11 terrorist attacks, from Al Qaeda’s roots in the 1980s to America’s response, both at home and abroad.”
Told over five episodes, this docuseries begins with the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001, and takes viewers on a journey through the US’s response and the war in Afghanistan all the way to the withdrawal of US troops from the country and the resulting resurgence of the Taliban.
Where to watch it: Netflix
Starring Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Amy Ryan, Tate Donovan, Shunori Ramanathan and Laura Benanti, Worth poses the question, ‘”what is the value of a human life?” as it follows the story of attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who was tasked with heading up the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
The fund was designed to compensate the families of the victims of that day, but also to deter them from bringing mass legal action against the airlines, which would have crippled the aviation industry.
Therefore, Feinberg faced the inconceivable job of trying to discern who was compensated what from a multibillion-dollar fund, while trying to sell the families on the idea that the lives of their loved ones could be quantified by that number.
Where to watch: Netflix