NEW YORK (Associated Press) – A new film reveals and renews the tensions that led to the creation of the 9/11 National Monument and the museum under Memorial Falls and a reflecting pool at the World Trade Center.
Disgruntled museum officials objected and sought changes to “The Outsider,” a documentary revealing the conflicting visions behind the New York landmark that opened in 2014.
The movie opens Thursday at an unusual location, Facebook, which will stream it to its users for $3.99. After that, it will infect some theaters and other streaming services before the 20th anniversary of the attack.
The “stranger” in the film is Michael Shulan, the museum’s former creative director, who has often fallen out with Alice Greenwald, the current president and CEO, and her allies. Both worked on its development for several years and had fundamental differences in how the story was presented.
Essentially, Chulan felt that the museum should be more welcoming and better treat what led to the attack and its consequences: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the restrictions on personal freedom in the United States. Some critics feel that it is now difficult to bear the installation focusing on the horrors of the day.
“Michael wanted to ask questions,” narrator Bob Garfield says in the film. Alice wanted to provide answers.
Directors Stephen Rosenbaum and Pamela Yoder, husband and wife, have their own documented date of September 11, 2001. Their company was filming a show for Animal Planet in Manhattan that day, and took a turn after the impact of the planes. Rosenbaum asked his crew to film what was happening on the street. This footage and other video clips from collective sources were used in the 2002 movie “7 Days in September.”
In 2008, they granted the museum the rights to use as many as 500 hours of video collected that week. In return, they were offered behind-the-scenes access to the museum’s work with the idea that an interesting film could be made.
“It was supposed to be an observational documentary,” Rosenbaum said. “For the first two years, the museum was what we were told it was going to be.”
Chulan, who is not part of the world of museums and curators, was hired for his work after he opened a photo gallery on 9/11. As an outsider, he was frustrated with the museum professionals, who were clearly with him.
The filmmakers sided with him in the dispute, saying they did not like what the museum had become.
“It’s nationalist, hostile, and based on grievances,” Rosenbaum said. “If you are, you will end up feeling sad and angry. Is that what a museum is supposed to do?”
Shulan declined to comment on the film, other than saying he didn’t know he was focusing on it until after it was completed. He left the museum after it opened as he had always intended.
Museum spokeswoman Lee Cochran said “The Outsider” looks at the installations through a specific ideological lens “that we don’t share.”
“At a time when many American institutions are subject to ideological and partisan divisions, the memorial and museum must remain a sacred place that seeks to educate and unite,” Cochran said. “We have made it clear to the filmmakers that we are disappointed with many of their decisions, which we believe are disrespectful to the victims and their families.”
Officials said that if he had been focused on how 9/11 changed America, the museum would have been obsolete once it opened.
Museum officials had the right to review the film, primarily for security reasons, and showed it in May. A few weeks later, his attorney sent the filmmakers a long list of objections.
Most were ignored and some seemed trivial. Officials, for example, alleged that a scene showing an exchange about potential items for sale in the museum’s gift shop was defamatory. They said that including an occasional comment from an employee that “fruit is healthier than cake” would damage that person’s reputation.
They also objected to the filmmakers showing museum officials reviewing a shocking audio tape of a woman at the World Trade Center talking to an emergency worker when she realized she was about to die, and a video showing women victims jumping or falling into the void.
Because the two potential shows were rejected, the museum said these scenes would be unnecessarily difficult to view. The filmmakers said they wanted to clarify the kinds of tough decisions that creative directors and curators face.
Also, they said, the editorial choices are theirs, not the museum’s choices.
After publicizing its objections, the museum said it was no longer seeking changes or making any attempt to stop distribution of the film.
Aside from the documentary, Rosenbaum and Yoder said they are concerned that the museum will impose restrictions on how researchers can use the video they’ve donated. The museum said it had the right to review how the images were displayed for accuracy, but was not aware that any researcher had asked to see some of them.
This raises the question of whether a grudge against museum officials influenced his decisions to make “The Outsider.” Rosenbaum said the movie ended before they knew about the potential access problem.
The film comes at a difficult time for the museum, which has witnessed a drop in attendance due to the outbreak of the pandemic and the interruption of jobs and opening days.
Distributing tape on Facebook is first of all a new approach and a kind of test. The film’s makers said they don’t know if Facebook is promoting The Outsider.
“It could be millions of viewers or 35 years old,” Rosenbaum said. “It is impossible to know and this is heartbreaking.”
The film will be shown in select theaters on Friday, and later on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.