It was dark outside when my family and I left the Walt Disney Concert Hall after the awards ceremony in a cavernous room there for the Stock Market Game, which my father, a business education teacher, teaches in his classroom. But it was a Los Angeles dark, meaning the inside of the buildings looming in front of us and the streetlights around us provided enough light for a parade if the Stock Market Game had such a budget. But filet mignon as part of a catered dinner was enough for the budget, a few years before the economy nosedived and future awards ceremonies were held in a musty-smelling ‘60s-style auditorium (which may have actually been around since the ‘60s) with “futuristic” chairs inside the Merrill Lynch building also in the downtown area.
While we waited for the valet service to bring our car from the parking garage, I stared at those buildings, watching for any movements I could see on each floor, thinking about who might still be working past 9 p.m., the janitors cleaning, the security guards walking around or just watching split-screen camera monitors, continuing my line of thought that started during boredom at the ceremony, when I wondered what else the hired waiters and waitresses for this event did in their lives.
I imagine promising writer/director Jennifer Gargano thinking the same thing for her phenomenal short film 8:46, which covers September 10th, 2001, and then that tragic, dark, unforgettable day. Should she focus on one firehouse? One floor of the World Trade Center? One family who, just like the rest of us, had no idea of the terror to come? How does one even begin to tell the story of that day in fictional form?
Gargano knows exactly how to do it. She goes from Queens, to Chelsea, to Midtown Manhattan, to Brooklyn Heights, to the World Trade Center Day Care, to the 47th floor, the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor, the 102nd floor, the 22nd floor, the 64th floor, and she presents sketches of different lives, the kind that you’d write to see if you’d really want to be a screenwriter. But Gargano does it so well, imbuing each character with easily understandable personalities, some unique, some day-to-day living, profiling all those about to be affected by this horrific terrorist attack. There’s the parents who are taking Flight 11 to Los Angeles to visit their newlywed daughter. A father doesn’t approve of his son being gay, but tries to keep it inside as he tells him to be on time for the internship he pulled strings to get him. An old security guard comes home from another day of work at the World Trade Center and quietly steels himself to climb the stairs to his apartment, where he lives alone. An author checks into the Marriott World Trade Center ahead of a meeting with an editor at a publishing company the next day, and briefly communicates with a man working in the office directly across the way from her in one of the towers. A fireman reveals to the others in his firehouse that he plans to propose to his girlfriend.
Gargano is a major burgeoning filmmaker to watch. There are more stories besides these, and in the briefest moments, she makes us feel like we know these people so well, also helped by actors who look like you and me. Every actor gives all that they have and more in these roles not only because of what they’re representing in history, but also because they clearly respect what Gargano has written and how she’s guided them to these performances, which are all genuine. These people could be our neighbors, our friends, those we pass in the supermarket on a Monday evening to get milk for our coffee the next morning. Not that we need any pointers on how to feel about the heinous, black-hearted attack on our nation, but because of Gargano and these actors, we feel so deeply for these men and women when the worst happens. Director of photography Mike Hechanova’s impressively unsettling camerawork becomes that much more affecting as a result.
The victims, the first responders, the firemen, the policemen, those on the hijacked planes, they’re all heroes forever. They will never be forgotten, which is why Gargano made 8:46. She has done great honor to those heroes. If she uses 8:46 as a calling card for her future work, as I’m sure she will, I hope she makes herself a package deal with Hechanova and editor Wen Hsuan Tseng, who performs a nimble ballet with his editing work, giving just enough time to each story for us to connect to them. They all work together so beautifully, for the same purpose, to tell these stories so that others always remember.
This DVD from Virgil Films has a trailer for 8:46, a photo gallery containing 60 screen shots from it, and a touching video about the 9/11 organization Tuesday’s Children, examining their impact 10 years later, along with now helping out other victims of terrorist attacks. It’s 7 minutes that helps keep up hope of goodness in the United States. And “About Tuesday’s Children” reminds viewers that a portion of all proceeds from 8:46 will go to Tuesday’s Children.
Whatever Jennifer Gargano is planning for her next project, I’ll be there, with exactly the same passion I have for favorite authors whose next books I wait impatiently for. This is a touching, sobering debut that shows the future of a filmmaker ready to blast up high in the world, to keep impressing people with her incredible storytelling ability. It gets even better from here. I’m sure of it.