When the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11, 2001, students had just started their day at Stuyvesant, the prestigious New York City specialized public high school, blocks from the World Trade Center. Directed and produced by seven-time Emmy-winner Amy Schatz (HBO’s Song of Parkland, The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm and An Apology to Elephants), In the Shadow of the Towers: Stuyvesant High on 9/11 offers a unique eyewitness perspective on that tragic day and its aftermath from former Stuyvesant students.
In the Shadow of the Towers revisits the events of 9/11 through conversations with eight Stuyvesant alumni who, as teenagers, lived through the attack and whose lives were forever changed by it. “People don’t really talk about the fact that there were kids there,” says Himanshu Suri. The former students recall a normal, sunny day, one of the first days of the school year, suddenly interrupted by disaster. “Absolutely everything changed that day,” recounts Ilya Feldsherov, who was 17 at the time.
The film’s subjects describe the chaos of the day – witnessing the planes crash, fleeing from the encroaching dust cloud from the towers’ collapse, and their harrowing journeys home, often miles away in the city’s outer boroughs, including Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
As the teens poured out onto the streets, they tried to find each other and stick together – especially students of South Asian descent, who immediately feared becoming victims of misdirected anger. Himanshu Suri and Taresh Batra recall walking with young women wearing hijabs who were cursed at by men on the street. Mohammad Haque, the son of Bangladeshi immigrants, remembers realizing he was in a war zone from the moment he called his father, who begged him to “please just survive.”
Representing students from various immigrant communities and backgrounds, the participants speak about the backlash against minorities that followed the attack and the deep friendships with classmates that got them through.
“My parents wouldn’t let me out of the house,” recalls Mohammad Haque. “They were afraid that some random person with some preconceived notion or idea would take out their anger and frustrations on some kid that they see who looks like something that they imagine to be fearful.” About returning to Stuyvesant he adds, “there was just a harmony in our class because of what we went through and how we understood that everyone was accepting of one another.”
The film provides a moving portrait of a community united. “We were just so close,” says Liz O’Callahan who notes that she and her classmates “solidified relationships in ways that have carried forward.”
A story about how it felt to be a young person at ground zero, the film explores the ways in which September 11th shaped these students’ lives and their dreams for America, and how it continues to shape our world today.
The documentary’s participants include Taresh Batra, Catherine Choy, Ilya Feldsherov, Mohammad Haque, Liz O’Callahan, Himanshu Suri, Michael Vogel and Carlos Williams. In the Shadow of the Towers includes a song by Suri, also known as rap artist Heems, that describes his post-9/11 experience. Many of the students featured in the film were involved in the making of “With Their Eyes,” a play created in 2001 by Stuyvesant students and teacher Annie Thoms about the community’s 9/11 experience.
Photographs of Stuyvesant high school life were taken by Ethan Moses, Stuyvesant class of ’02.
In the Shadow of the Towers: Stuyvesant High on 9/11 is dedicated to Stuyvesant alumna Catherine Choy who died shortly after filming for the documentary. The film was directed and produced by Amy Schatz; editor Tom Patterson; director of photography Alex Rappoport; music composed by Keith Kenniff; co-producers Katy Garfield and Sascha Weiss; consulting producer, Diane Kolyer; production executive, Susan Benaroya; supervising producer, Sara Rodriguez; executive producers, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller.