9/11 KIDS

It’s one of the most memorable moments from 9/11: White House Chief of Staff Andy Card walks up to President George W. Bush and whispers in his ear: “A second plane has hit the second tower. America is under attack.”

The place was Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. Sitting in front of the President were sixteen school children, all 6-7 years old. They were chosen because they were some of the best readers in their school and Emma E. Booker was a success story, test scores were up compared to other schools in the district. It was the perfect place for Bush to promote his education program, No Child Left Behind.

While the President processed the shocking news, the kids read from the book The Pet Goat. The imagery is surreal to watch, even today. An American President on camera at the exact moment he learns of a major attack on the country. Members of the press and Bush’s advisors stand nearby, shifting nervously and waiting. The kids keep reading; their voices are strong and full of hope. It’s like history is on pause. These are the final moments of innocence, right before the storm.

What happened to those kids? Which ones went on to graduate college and get a good job? Who fell on hard times and why? We’ve tracked them down to find out what they remember, what’s happened since, and their dreams for the future.

Eighteen years later, they are all in their mid-20s, trying to get their footing in a country and world shaped so much by 9/11. Some have joined the military or started their own businesses, while others have fallen on hard times.

They bore witness to the very moment a new American reality was born. They are the generation of Google, smart phones and Facebook, but also cyber-bullying, global terrorism, and climate change. All of them are African-American and Latino in a country that will be majority minority in less than 30 years. President Bush came to speak to them on 9/11 because they represented the future. They still do. It’s time to catch up.

This film is about the 9/11 Generation and the American Dream. It shines a light on a unique group of Americans, exploring their personal and professional lives, and giving voice to their hopes and fears. The 9/11 Kids provide a window into some of the most vital themes of the American experience.

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  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 28 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    October 31, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    600,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Hot Docs International Film Festival
    May 25, 2020
    Canadian Festival Premiere
    Rogers Audience Award
  • American Black Film Festival
    United States
    August 21, 2020
    Official Selectoin
  • Sarasota Film Festival
    United States
    May 1, 2020
    American Festival Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Calgary International Film Festival
    September 24, 2020
    Official Selection
  • EDS International Documentary Film Festival
    Korea, Republic of
    August 24, 2020
    Koren Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Yes Film Festival
    Columbus, Indiana
    United States
    October 23, 2020
    Official Selection
Distribution Information
  • Blue Ant International
    Country: Canada
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - Elizabeth St. Philip

Elizabeth St. Philip is an award winning producer at CTV National News where she covers a host of stories for national news and the investigative show W5. Elizabeth wrote and directed two documentaries for the National Film Board of Canada which appeared at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival and aired on CBC, the Documentary Channel and Discovery Times in the United States. Her work has won and been nominated for awards from the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television and the Radio Television Digital News Association. In 2016 she was inducted as a Role Model at the Black Canadian Women Awards.

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Director Statement

By Elizabeth St. Philip

I still remember where I was on 9/11.

A plane hit the North Tower. Someone whispered: "this is the start of World War III".

President Bush was at an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida, listening to a group of 16 schoolchildren read the book, The Pet Goat.

This documentary is about those kids, in their mid-20s today.

Little is known about their personal lives. For years they were relegated to the margins of history. How did that day shape them?

We follow them over the course of a year and hear from them first-hand. They are part of the most racially diverse generations in American history.

Our students are African American and Latino, a fact that personally interests me as a Black filmmaker and journalist. My previous films documented the lives of people of colour striving to achieve their dreams in the face of insurmountable odds.

The film creates a portrait of a new America, a country that will be less than 50 percent White in 25 years.

This fact is unleashing deep anxieties as well as a backlash against people of colour.

The students are growing up a world marked by suspicion, social inequity, and racial intolerance.

We show how they tackle these big picture social issues as they chase the American dream.

9/11 Kids is a cinematic, emotionally intimate and immersive film.

We use dollies, drones and a Ronin Steadycam/Gimbal to create movement in many of our scenes, a visual metaphor to show our subjects are moving towards an (uncertain) future.

Driving shots and dollies track locations like schools, workplaces and neighbourhoods. The Ronin smoothly captures our subjects on the way to work, school, court and sadly for some, even jail.

Drones fly over the city of Sarasota, a major character and the setting of the film. We will reveal the city is still segregated, a microcosm of American society.

President George Bush planned to use the school and the students as a backdrop to promote his education program No Child Left Behind.

The film features the most in-depth interview ever captured with Kay Daniels, the teacher who welcomed President Bush into her classroom that day. The bond between Mrs. Daniels and her students from 2001 remains strong to this day. She calls them her “babies” and they call her “Mama Kay.”

This section deeply resonates with me as I am the daughter of a single immigrant mother who was a school teacher.
My mother taught me importance of education, how to be strong and work hard. It is same reason some of the students are currently successful. But the past 18 years have brought many changes to the school and community. There are shootings blocks from the building, drugs ravaged the neighbourhood.

Ultimately the goal of 9/11 Kids is to get viewers to care about these young people - their struggles, triumphs and tragedies and the community that shaped them.

They are so much more than a forgotten photo-op for a US president. They are America’s future.