Director James Ronald Whitney's Telling Nicholas 2011 Screening
Palm Springs CA


Channel 2 News Interview

Powerful, Hopeful 9/11 Documentary Makes Valley Debut
Camelot Theatres to Show "Telling Nicholas" on September 11th

By Manny the Movie Guy

Filmmaker James Ronald Whitney saw 9/11 unfold right before his very eyes. Armed with a camera, he documented the biggest and most horrific tragedy we have ever faced.

But Whitney did not just capture incredible footage, he also created one of the most quintessential movies about 9/11 - "Telling Nicholas."

The film is a brilliant, heartfelt, and hopeful account of 7-year old Nicholas Lanza's life after his mother was killed in the Twin Towers. The film begs the question - how do you tell a child that his mom just died?

Another boy whose parent died in the 9/11 attacks is Thanbir Ahmed, a Muslim teenager whose father, a waiter at Windows on the World, also passed away that day.

54 days after the 9/11 attacks, "Telling Nicholas" premiered to critical acclaim. The documentary won an Emmy, was inducted into The Museum of Television and Radio, and was selected by The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences as "One of the most outstanding movies of 2002!" It was also included in the Academy's prestigious documentary series.

Ten years after the attacks, the film is set to premier in Palm Springs, the place Whitney now calls home. Here's more info on the screening:

"Honoring the tenth anniversary of the September 11th Attack, Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs will present two exclusive screenings of "Telling Nicholas." A matinee will be shown at 1:00pm and a Red Carpet Evening screening will begin at 6:00pm. Director James Ronald Whitney will appear at both Post-Screening Q&A Sessions. Ticket prices are $15 for the afternoon screening and $25 for the Red Carpet evening show."

Proceeds benefit Variety, the Children's Charity of the Desert.

Hope and loss, friendships through tragedies, "Telling Nicholas" is a powerful film about the triump of the human spirit. As many as 10,000 children lost a parent on September 11, "Telling Nicholas" is an homage to those kids. This is one 9/11 movie you definitely have to see.

Click here to visit the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs, and here to purchase tickets. For more information on "Telling Nicholas," visit the film's official website right here.

You can also use the phone to buy tickets by simply dialing 1-888-71-TICKETS


"Telling Nicholas" screening at Camelot Theatres – Sept. 11, 2011
Emmy winning Director attends screening to benefit Variety Club Children's Charities. by GLORIA GREER


Award winning documentary "Telling Nicholas" to be shown on big screen

September 11th, 2011 marks the
10-Year Anniversary of James Ronald Whitney's Emmy Award Winning film,

"Telling Nicholas"

On Sunday, September 11th, 2011 at 6PM
Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs, CA will be hosting a
Red-Carpet Gala and Special Feature Encore Presentation of Whitney's
documentary that was both inducted into The Museum of Television and Radio,
and chosen by The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences as
"One of the most outstanding movies of 2002," and included in the Academy's prestigious series.

TIME Magazine describes the film as,
"WRENCHING!...James Ronald Whitney does something different!...
"Telling Nicholas" can be cathartic and even funny, but it is not easy to watch...
Discomfortingly private, yet strangely mediated."

There will also be an earlier 1PM matinee screening of Whitney's film that same day,
and both screenings of "Telling Nicholas" will be followed by a Q&A with the director.
All proceeds will benefit Variety--The Children's Charity of The Desert!

or call (888) 71-TICKETS or (888) 718-4253
Camelot Theatres (760) 325-6565
2300 East Baristo Road, Palm Springs, CA

"Telling Nicholas" has been featured on (to name a few):


Fox & Friends

CNN fn

Talk Back Live

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NEW YORK, September--AND THE EMMY GOES TO... Director, James Ronald Whitney, recieved the Emmy Award for his critically acclaimed movie, "Telling Nicholas," which premiered on HBO in 2002.

The film documented ten days in 7-year-old Nicholas Lanza's life after his
mother was killed in the fall of the twin towers. The film also follows
16-year-old Thanbir Ahmed, a Muslim, whose father was killed in the same
attack. Ahmed joined Whitney and Fire Island Films' executive producer
Richard Reichgut, at the Awards Ceremony.

In a grateful acceptance, Whitney thanked not only "... the two brave and
courageous young men and their families for telling their heart-wrenching
stories," but also the entire Home Box Office team, headed by executive
producer Sheila Nevins and producer Lisa Heller for helping to remind the
world that although the New York City skyline can and will be rebuilt, the
families who lost their loved-ones will be at a loss forever.

James recently completed his latest film titled, "Games People Play: New
York," which received 4 stars from the Chicago Film Critic's Association, and he is currently working on the sequel, "Games People Play: Hollywood."

"Telling Nicholas" will have an Encore Presentation Wednesday, September
10th on HBO (see your local guide for details). For more information on
" Telling Nicholas" visit Additionally, The ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURE ARTS AND SCIENCES has chosen "Telling Nicholas" as one of the most outstanding movies of 2002. The Academy will be presenting this film to the general public as part of their prestigious series during the evening of Wednesday, October 1, 2003 at UCLA's James Bridges Theater. Whitney, will attend this special screening. For additional information, visit


'Telling Nicholas' Nominated for Emmy Award James Ronald Whitney's TV-Film Explores Child's Reaction to Losing Mom in 9-11

NEW YORK, July 22 -- How do you tell your son that his Mommy is never coming home? "Telling Nicholas," an HBO TV-film that documented tendays in a child's life after the fall of the twin towers, has been nominated for an Emmy Award. As images of falling towers, debris clouds anddisaster recede into the annals of history, award-winning filmmaker JamesRonald Whitney has poignantly captured one moment that seven-year-old Nicholas Lanza will never forget -- the moment of realization when he discovered that his mother was never coming home from her job at Fiduciary Trust on the 97th floor of Tower Two at The World Trade Center.

Although Whitney focuses on one American family, like so many, Nicholas' grandmother simply blamed all Muslims for the loss of her daughter."I want them all tortured," she explained, while sitting on her front porch."Their hair plucked out, their fingernails ripped off one by one ... men women and children, all of them." That was until little Nicholas befriended Thanbir Ahmed, a 16-year-old Muslim boy whose father was killed in the attack, explains James Ronald Whitney, whose premiere film "Just Melvin," won numerous awards at film festivals both nationally and internationally. "Ahmed becamepart of my film crew, and ultimately, these two American families -- one Christian, the other Muslim -- walked hand in hand to the memorial of Nicholas's 36-year-old mother, Michele Lanza."

Unlike the other nominated films which have several contributors sharing the category nomination, James Ronald Whitney single-handedly produced, wrote, directed, edited and even composed the theme song to his film. Whitney's gripping narrative moves the documentary rapidly from scene to heart-wrenching scene, as psychotherapist Dr.Gilda Carle compassionately guides Nicholas' family throughout the telling ordeal.

For more about "Telling Nicholas," visit the website at


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CNN Headline News Entertainment Report

Telling Nicholas Interview with Alicia Davis and James Ronald Whitney

Very, very compelling thank you. The documentary "Telling Nicholas" gets to the heart of the tragedy that forever changed the lives of so many people. Now, one seven year old boy named Nicholas lost his mother in the World Trade Center attacks and this HBO documentary literally brings the horror of September 11th home following Nicholas's confusion and shock when he learns that his mother is gone forever. Well, joining me now from New York is the Director of Telling Nicholas, James Ronald Whitney. Ron, glad to have you join us.

Thanks for having me Alicia.

Now basically this is a movie about how a family copes in the ten days following the World Trade Center attacks. How did you come to make this movie?

Well I live just a few blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood and the first plane flew right over my skylight. I'm on the top floor of a building and I have the roof, so after that, I went upstairs and saw the second plane fly into the second tower. Both of the towers collapsed and I finally ran down the fire escape stairs and then ran from that enormous debris cloud that was heading up my street. That image that you've now seen in ad nauseum was only about fifty feet behind me, and like everybody else I felt completely helpless. But I had a camera and my cameraman was with me, so we just began filming the chaos, even though at that point I had no idea what the shape of the project was going to ultimately be. I was just filming whatever shocked me, or confused me, or whatever I found interesting, and that ended up shaping into a journey that was ten days long where in the end this father was faced with the horrendous burden of having to tell his little boy who's only seven years old that his mommy is dead.

And now how did you get such access to the family, was that difficult or did they really welcome you in and want to share their story.

Well for a family going through a tragedy, it's much easier in a way for them to talk to a complete stranger about how wonderful their daughter is. Their daughter, Michelle, is Nicholas' mother, and they expected her to walk through that door at any moment. They did not believe that she was dead, and for ten days, they were hanging on to that belief. The cameras were academic to them, because they were much more concerned about the well-being of their daughter than they were of my camera crew. Besides, I was genuinely concerned about what was going on. My last two films have also been about issues regarding children so they knew that I very interested in Nicholas' welfare and, in fact, I had come prepared with child help hotline numbers and crisis information like different dot com addresses that had been set up. But there was nothing to help out this poor father-he had no idea whatsoever how to face the burden of telling his little boy about his mother. There's no handbook about this, so everybody was just winging it. It wasn't until day ten that he finally had the courage to tell his little boy what was going on, because he needed some sort of resolve. It was on that day that the entire family realized that there was no miracle around the corner, and that Michelle was not going to walk through that door ever again. She was dead.

Right, well everyone was hoping for a miracle at that time. Now this film it actually follows two families, unfortunately were running out of time but I'd like you to talk a bit about the other family.

Well Nicholas' grandmother, that's Michelle's mother, expressed anger toward all Muslims after the attack. She blamed them en mass for the loss of her daughter. On day 3, I found another flier that said Shabir Ahmed and I sought out that family hoping for a response to this expression of hatred. The Ahmed family lives in Sheepshead Bay and through this ten-day journey the sixteen-year-old Muslim boy ended up coming with me and my crew and befriending Nicholas. In fact, at the end of the film Thanbir, the Muslim boy, actually is welcomed into Nicholas' grandmothers home, and at the very end of the film you see them walking off together after Michelle's memorial. So there really is a joining of two different cultures and two different worlds in this movie that is airing this Sunday, Mother's Day.


And one of the most wonderful things about this movie is that at the very end, little Nicholas, only 7 years old, utters his final words in this film that will hopefully, among other things, help to memorialize his mother. He simply says, "I love you Mom."

Sounds like a perfect, perfect film for Mothers day. Ron I'm so sorry to cut you off there but unfortunately were running out of time but I want to thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you again Alicia.

And Telling Nicholas airs this Sunday at 10 PM EST on HBO following 'Six Feet Under.'

'Telling Nicholas' is heart-wrenching

HBO tells true story of a boy
who lost his mother Sept. 11

HOLLYWOOD, May 10 - Documentary filmmaker James Ronald Whitney lived just below the World Trade Center when the towers collapsed on Sept. 11, and he immediately grabbed his camera and began taping. The shots of the buildings themselves, though, are easily the least interesting thing about the superb "Telling Nicholas," which, documenting a 10-day period after the attack, starts out as the story of informing a 7-year-old his mother has died but ends up depicting the near melt-down of a family.

A neighbor is watching the boy in order to keep him away from the television, while Nicholas' father Robert, a soft-spoken Oklahoma native, is struggling with how to tell his son the circumstances.

    IT'S A HEART-WRENCHING film, genuinely deep in its examination of trauma, grief, and the fissures that divide a family that's not as conventional as they initially appear.
    While looking for pictures of people he knew at one of the big posting sites for the missing, Whitney was immediately drawn to a photograph of Michele Lanza and, sitting on her lap, her son Nicholas. Within 72 hours of the attack, Whitney went out to meet Michele's family in Tottenville, at the outer reach of Staten Island.
    The focus is at this point completely on Nicholas, an adorable, blonde-haired kid who knows something has happened but isn't sure what. A neighbor is watching the boy in order to keep him away from the television, while Nicholas' father Robert, a soft-spoken Oklahoma native, is struggling with how to tell his son the circumstances. The rest of the family, Michele's mother, father and two sisters, continue to harbor hope that Michele may still be alive, and they play for Whitney the phone message she left for her younger sister Cindy after the first plane hit but before the second.
    Gradually, a clearer picture of the family emerges. Michele and Robert were separated, with Robert living in Virginia. Her family has, to be generous, mixed feelings towards Robert, whose financial situation had lead to Michele's taking the job in Manhattan to begin with, a job she didn't really want. The initial trauma of the event gives way to anger, blame and guilt, with the most blatant victim being Cindy, who falls into a catatonic state and needs to be treated with anti-psychotic drugs. Michele's mother, Ethel, still working hard to deny her daughter's death, is stressed to the limit caring for Nicholas and Cindy's two children.

    Whitney brings in another family as well, the Ahmed family in Brooklyn, devout Muslims. Shabbir Ahmed was a waiter at Windows on the World and died in the attacks. His 16-year-old son Thanbir becomes an eloquent voice in the film, and even develops a bond with Nicholas when Whitney introduces the two.
    Whitney is clearly not trying to be a detached observer here. In addition to bringing Thanbir into the picture   in part to blunt the intensity of Michele's family's strong anti-Muslim feelings, particularly from Ethel he also introduces the family to psychologist Gilda Carle, whom the family trusts in part because they've seen her on various television talk shows. Carle counsels the family, with a particular focus on helping Robert deal with the inevitable, informing Nicholas that his mother is dead.
    While that event forms the climax of the film, Whitney has also delved along the way into the forms of religious extremism at work within this apparently all-American family. Michele's older sister, who received a correspondence doctorate and lives with a plethora of religious icons in the family basement, claims the attacks were the culmination of prophecy, while also blaming Robert's evangelical apostolic faith, with a focus on female modesty, for oppressing Michele.
    From Aaron Davies' casual but polished cinematography to Mocean Worker's sensitively mournful scoring, "Telling Nicholas" is an expert work. Whitney's own first-person narration helps it along, and the whole endeavor comes off as deeply felt and highly personal, never the slightest bit sensational or exploitative, which in lesser hands might have been a possibility.
    Whitney does all he can to give it something of an upbeat ending, and accomplishes that to a degree with Thanbir and Nicholas's help. He also shows a statistic, that it is thought over 10,000 children lost a parent on September 11th. The overall impact of the film is devastating, and it clearly demonstrates that the residual effects of that event continue to ripple not just outward, but inward too.
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HBO Documentary
As the world tried to come to grips with the loss of so many, thousands of children went from having hope to hearing the unimaginable. Filmmaker James Ronald Whitney captured one family on camera for the 10 days following the attacks. Telling Nicholas can be seen Sunday, May 19 at 10 p.m. on HBO
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HBO Announces First Frame by Frame Series in San Francisco
indieWIRE: 07.22.02
HBO announced its documentary series, Frame by Frame, will screen for the first time in San Francisco for the first time from August 5 - 12 at The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The series, which began in New York will hold its fifth annual event in Gotham this autumn.

Kicking off the event in the Bay Area featuring 26 documentary films are...James Ronald Whitney's "Telling Nicholas" as well as the much heralded "In Memoriam: New York City, 9/11/01." The film features clips and photos from 100+ New Yorkers and independent filmmakers.

Other highlights planned in this year's Frame by Frame are screenings of "Murder on a Sunday Morning," this year's Oscar-winner for best documentary feature...and Q & A with a host of award-winning filmmakers.
                            -- Brian Brooks
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Reliving 9/11: Too Much? Too Soon?
week after they've each lost a parent in the World Trade Center attack, two boys, ages 7 and 16, conduct an experiment. They take a map of the world into a local store in Tottenville, at the southern tip of Staten Island. As customers come in, the older boy hands them a marker and asks them to circle Afghanistan.

A college student marks France, a high school teacher Israel, a third customer Poland.

The boy asks them to name the leader of the terrorist organization that attacked America. The name Bin Laden draws blanks.
This scene comes from "Telling Nicholas," an HBO documentary, showing tonight, that follows the family of Michele Lanza, one of the victims, in the days after the attack. Her 7-year-old son, Nicholas, is one of the boys in the store; he still believes his mother is missing, not dead.

While the documentary focuses on a family's loss, the boys' experiment is a reminder of how dramatically our view of the world has changed since that day. Not nearly as many people in this country would mistake Poland for Afghanistan now, nor would they be at a loss to name Osama bin Laden as the terrorist leader. Much of that instant education came from television, which in the early days provided both news and comfort. Then followed explication, in an onslaught of documentaries. The broadcast networks and cable channels have covered the rise of terrorism, the roots of Islam, the sociology of Afghanistan, the structural history of the World Trade Center and even the fate of pets living at ground zero (an Animal Planet production).

Six months after the attack, the commemoration began with those unnerving beams of light sprouting from the World Trade Center site. On television, CBS presented "9/11," its horrifying vision of the chaos inside the towers that day. HBO is weighing in tonight with "Telling Nicholas"...

It all seems very fast... In our speeded-up culture, we want instant catharsis.

The phenomenon is most pronounced in television, in part because the World Trade Center was situated in the country's media epicenter. Even if it hadn't been, cameras are everywhere. In many documentaries, including "Telling Nicholas," the cameras record other people recording the event. We may want to look away, but a great many people feel compelled to watch. CBS's "9/11" drew a huge audience, some 52.4 million people...

Before Sept. 11, HBO's America Undercover series was planning to show a documentary called "Animal Passions," about sexual relations between animals and humans. "Telling Nicholas" took that slot.

Many more documentaries on the attack and related subjects are in production, most for the one-year anniversary. The major networks are planning marathon events. Together with the cable news channel coverage, the intensity will probably be unprecedented in the medium - bigger than the Super Bowl, Olympics, J.F.K.'s assassination, Princess Diana's death.

Others are rolling out earlier. Some, like "Telling Nicholas," were begun as soon as the planes hit the World Trade Center. James Ronald Whitney, a filmmaker and stockbroker who lived just a few blocks away, went to the roof of his building and kept a steady camera on the horror as it happened.

The next day he saw Michele Lanza's face on a poster, one of the thousands placed by desperate families. He called her family to offer help, and ended up recording the most intimate aspects of their shock and grief, including some nasty family infighting and emotional breakdowns.

It is an astonishing film in many ways, with its intimate portrayal of a family coming to grips with unfathomable events, followed by a determined hopefulness that Michele might still be alive and then despair. Yet the filmmaker's presence also seems inappropriate, and the viewer becomes complicit. What do we gain by watching and listening as Nicholas's father tells him, 10 days after the attack, that his Mommy has died? The camera is kept at a remove, but a microphone is near. Advertisement

The unsettling voyeurism becomes especially weird when Mr. Whitney brings in Dr. Gilda Carle, an author and television therapist, to help counsel the Lanzas. They bond with her because they've seen her on television and don't seem to mind that she shows up buffed and made up for the camera.

Bizarre as all this may seem, the film provides a blunt reality that's missing from so many burnished visions of victims and rescuers. Though CBS's gruesome "9/11" was cast as a tribute to the firefighters, it often felt like a tribute to the filmmakers (the admittedly adorable Naudet brothers) simply for being there. It unwittingly showed something authentic but far from reassuring - that the firefighters were merely humans, unprepared for this historic disaster. "Telling Nicholas" accepts fallibility as a given. The Lanza family has its strengths, but they react to this terrible stress with anger, hostility and eccentric behavior. All these reactions seem understandable. What's strange is the family's willingness to reveal all this - at least that's how it seems now, removed from those first days of incomprehension and desperation, when families of victims looked for hope anywhere, even to a stranger with a camera.

That's HBO's style, to personalize and to provoke...Will this outpouring help alleviate anxiety about the attacks and their future consequences or make it worse?

"It will throw some people back, it will help some people cope," said Lawrence Aber, a professor of psychology and public health at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

Professor Aber worked with the New York City Board of Education on a recently released study about the effects of the attacks on children, and he thinks that documentaries can help them and their parents put the attacks into a larger context. It's useful, he said, to learn about other cultures and what they think of the United States, and about the conditions in which other people live.

But, he added, programs like CBS's "9/11," which drop people into undigested dread and panic, could be too disturbing for many people. "If all the documentary diet was of that nature, it would increase anxiety," Professor Aber said. "A little bit of fear and anxiety is intelligent in a dangerous world. But an overwhelming amount of fear and anxiety is debilitating. If you watch a lot of these documentaries, you'll be fried. I do believe that most viewers are going to be able to vote with the clicker. But I am concerned about more vulnerable people and children who may have a reduced ability to click away."

As we continue to be reminded, who isn't feeling more vulnerable these days?

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Monday, April 16, 2002
Tribeca Sets International Slate and Special Screenings

indieWIRE 04.16.02 -- Organizers of the Tribeca Film Festival have unveiled additional lineups for next month's inaugural event. Additional special screenings were also announced...Two studio pictures have been added to the lineup for the event as special Screenings: Warner Bros. "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," and the new Christopher Nolan film, "Insomnia." Additionally, organizers announced that James Ronald Whitney's "Telling Nicholas" and Deborah Shaffer's "From the Ashes" will screen in the September 11 program and they also unveiled a selection of titles that will celebrate 10 years of the monthly First Look screening series.
                            -- Eugene Hernandez
Daily Variety
Tuesday, April 16, 2002


NEW YORK --- The Tribeca Film Festival has added special screenings of Warner Bros. releases "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" and "Insomnia." ...Fest will include two world premiere features --- Miramax Films' "The Importance of Being Earnest," helmed by Oliver Parker, based on the classic play by Oscar Wilde; and Neil Burger's "Interview with the Assassin."

"Divine Secrets" will screen May 9 at United Artists' Battery Park Theaters, which has been closed since Sept. 11. Ensemble drama, helmed by Callie Khouri, stars Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan, Sandra Bullock, James Garner, Ashley Judd, Shirley Knight, Angus MacFadyen and Maggie Smith.

"Insomnia," directed by Chris Nolan ("Memento"), will screen May 11 at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. It stars Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank...

Several shorts and documentaries that commemorate Sept. 11 will screen in a special division of the fest devoted to the terrorist attacks. The doc feature films in the Sept. 11 program are "Telling Nicholas," directed by James Ronald Whitney, and "From the Ashes," directed by Deborah Shaffer. Jon Stewart will moderate a panel entitled "Sept. 11: How it Changed Us" that includes filmmakers, photographers, writers and musicians...
                            -- Charles Lyons

May 2002, Vol. VI, No. 5
Tribeca Film Festival Opens with Splash
Robert DeNiro and Jane Rosenthal champion a downtown New York film festival that instantly rivals film gatherings that have emerged over the course of ten and twenty years. Opening May 8th and playing on screens all over Manhattan's lower haunts, DeNiro offers an event to bring Tribeca together after September 11th.

The newest film festival on the map of "important" festivals is the Tribeca Film Festival. The advanced billing on this fest has been tremendous, already "taking note for best NY film festival" without ever having unreeled a film.

What's the big hype all about?...Tribeca Film Festival has a power and influential leading man Robert DeNiro pushing this new festival to unheard of heights in only its first year. 150 films, big stars, super-star judges including Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey, Barry Levinson and Meryl Streep, a classic series of films curated by one of New York's leading film scholars Martin Scorsese...Panels on topics like "Making Science More Sexy" and "Producing 101" will be populated with little knowns like Sidney Lumet, Susan Sarandon, and Alan Alda.

The film festival also has a special focus on films shot of set in New York including Eric Eason's MANITO set in the Washington Heights section of the city and TELLING NICHOLAS by James Ronald Whitney about a father telling his son his mother died in the World Center collapse 7 days after it happened.

And a Friday comedy/music concert to launch the first weekend of the festival features a line-up of high-powered connect performers: Sheryl Crow, Robin, Williams and Jimmy Fallon...The opening film is the premiere of ABOUT A BOY with Hugh Grant and Toni Collette in leading roles while George Lucas' STAR WARS: ESPISODE II -- ATTACK OF THE CLONES closes the festival on Sunday. Christopher Nolan's thriller INSOMNIA with Al Pacino and Hilary Swank and DIVINE SECRETS OF THE YA-YA SISTERHOOD starring Ashley Judd and Sandra Bullock are also being shown. These films are less about the triangle below canal and and more like the triangle tangle at Times Square. Downtown, it is said, is more diverse than this common array of celebrity actors and performers.
Monday, March 4, 2002

HBO Acquires 9/11 Doc "Telling Nicholas"

indieWIRE/ 03.04.02 -- Continuing its support of documentary projects, HBO has acquired James Ronald Whitney's feature-length doc, "Telling Nicholas" the premium channel recently announced. The film, which will be broadcast as part of HBO's new season of "American Undercover Sundays" is described as "an incredible microscopic look at the effect and devastation of the Twin Towers tragedy on one American family." HBO Executive Vice President of Original Programming Sheila Nevins said in a prepared statement, "The film reveals, in intimate detail, the suffering of one family and one can only imagine the reverberation and effect on the thousands of American families effected by September 11."

"Telling Nicholas" is the story of a father who must deal with telling his son about his mother's death in the World Trade Center tragedy. "HBO's Sheila Nevins and Lisa Heller have been extremely supportive of this film," commented Whitney in a prepared statement. "With the tremendous popularity of HBO, I'm certain that the story of Nicholas and his mother will forever remind people of the devastation caused by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center."

HBO acquired Whitney's 2001 Sundance premiere, "Just Melvin" last year. John Sloss brokered the U.S. broadcasting rights for "Nicholas." [Brian Brooks]

[For more information on the film, visit:]
The New York Times Magazine
Sunday, March 3, 2002


It's a formula that has made her the player of the documentary film world...Honors have been plentiful: HBO documentaries have received 10 Oscars, 43 Emmys, 17 George Foster Peabodys. When the Academy Award nominations were announced last month, HBO productions received four of the five nominations for Best Documentary Feature...Last year, Chris Albrecht, HBO's president for original programming, gave her productions a them the prime 10 p.m. spot following "The Sopranos." Ratings in that time period rose 15 percent from the previous year...

Even when the topic is familiar--AIDS, disability, murder, hate groups, incest, addiction, Monica Lewinsky--the style is distinctive. A Sheila Nevin's production takes its viewers inside frightening, painful and weird corners of human existence. In last year's "Just, Melvin: Just Evil," child abuse was explored through (James Ronald Whitney's) investigation of his own family's rampant molestation...As for Nevins, this spring it's business as usual--except that it isn't. "Animal Passions" has been replaced with (Whitney's) "Telling Nicholas," about a family dealing with a son whose mother was killed in the World Trade Center attack. HBO has also added a show in which Giuliani reconstructs that day...Earlier, Nevins had rejected the idea of a Giuliani piece, but after meeting him in October and listening to him tell about what happened on Sept. 11, she was mesmerized.."I'd never heard the story that way before," she says. For Nevins, that's as good a reason as any.
                            -- by Julie Salamon
March 4, 2002
Sometimes startling. Sometimes heartbreaking. Always real. HBO's award-winning documentary series, America Undercover, Sundays at 10 PM/9C.

"Monica in Black and White" (premieres Sunday, March 3)...
"Telling Nicholas" (premieres Sunday, May 19)

It's not TV. It's HBO.
"Telling Nicholas - a look at a Staten Island family that, after 10 days of making excuses, has to tell a boy that his mother won't ever come home incredible microscopic look at the effect and devastation of the Twin Towers tragedy on one American family. The film reveals in intimate detail the suffering of one family and one can only imagine the reverberation and effect on the thousands of American families effected by September 11. This was something so horrible. It's dizzying and sadness. Somehow, though, it has made me feel useful about what it is I do as a programmer."
--Sheila Nevins
HBO's Executive Vice President of Original Programming
HBO has picked up "Telling Nicholas" by James Ronald Whitney about a boy who lost his mother at the World Trade Center. It will premiere on May 19th. Whitney also made "Just Melvin" which HBO showed last year.

From strippers to Sept. 11,
HBO's Sheila Nevins tells it like it is

Multichannel News

For Sheila Nevins, it has always been about keeping it real. Home Box Office's executive vice president of original programming has spent the past 23 years developing and producing documentaries for the premium service... Her annual output schedule includes 13 films for the America Undercover franchise, four late-night shows (Real Sex in its various iterations), three specials, and a baker's dozen worth of documentaries for Cinemax under the Reel Life banner.

Right now, she's charged up about a pair of projects centered on the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, an event that initially left Nevins traumatized.

"At first I was locked inside, watching TV," she said. "I felt like an idiot."

Working on the projects has, to some extent, helped Nevins to heal. In Memoriam: 9/11/01 New York City looks at the "macrocosm of the tragedy, the heart of the people and the city, their calm, their panic, their camaraderie, the work of [former New York Mayor] Rudy Giuliani," said Nevins.

By contrast, Telling Nicholas-a look at a Staten Island family that, after 10 days of making excuses, has to tell a boy that his mother won't ever come home again-is the microcosmic view.

"This was something so horrible," said Nevins. "It's dizzying and sadness. Somehow, though, it has made me feel useful about what it is I do as a programmer."

Ironically, Nevins' passion for reality dates back to her days at Yale University's School of Drama, where she received an master's of fine arts degree. "I already do drama, without actors," she said. "I learned early on that working with actors wasn't something I would want to deal with. I couldn't handle the entourages." For Nevins-who began her career with Don Hewitt as a producer for CBS's Who's Who, and as a writer for the Children's Television Workshop-real life offers all the material she needs.

"I do drama docs, not docudramas. There are more than enough intriguing situations in life."

For franchises like America Undercover and Reel Life, Nevins tries to balance "heat with warmth." This approach to subject matter doesn't just span the human condition. It has practical purposes throughout an annual production schedule... Nonetheless, Nevins maintains that quality is more important than Nielsen results...The reality genre's rise on broadcast television has brought more attention to HBO, she says - with mixed emotions. ..

After nearly a quarter of a century on the job - and having amassed a growing collection of Academy Awards, Emmys, Cable Aces and George Foster Peabody Awards - Nevins has no plans to stop anytime soon...Nevins said she's never considered her job to "be work work. What I have been able to do for more than 20 years here, is like a gift."
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TriBeCa Festival Celebrates Film and Resilience
by Robin Pogrebin, May 7, 2002
Certainly the world doesn't need another film festival. But the people behind the TriBeCa Film Festival felt strongly that New York needed this one.

So when you ask Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal, founders of TriBeCa Productions, how their film festival, which opens tomorrow and runs through Sunday, will differ from Sundance or Cannes or Toronto, they say they do not really know yet.

"As it goes on, hopefully it will define itself," Mr. De Niro said.
Soon it becomes clear that the importance of this first festival lies not so much in the films featured - more than 150 of them, from shorts like the 14-minute Spanish film "Bamboleho" to major Hollywood premieres like "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" - as in its location.

Because of Mr. De Niro's name and the prestige of TriBeCa Productions, founded in 1988, doors appear to have opened easily. American Express swooped in as the festival's presenting sponsor. Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Isaac Mizrahi agreed to be judges for the film competition. Sidney Lumet, Susan Sarandon and Alan Alda agreed to participate in panels on topics like "Producing 101" and "Making Science More Sexy."

In addition to "Star Wars," Hollywood is sending several splashy premieres, including "Insomnia," with Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank; "About a Boy," with Hugh Grant and Toni Collette; and "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," with Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn and Ashley Judd.

Martin Scorsese is curator for a series of newly restored film classics, beginning with "Viva Zapata," and collected his favorite films about New York. The festival has benefited from a hip advertising campaign featuring Billy Crystal, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny DeVito and others.

Except for films entered in the competition, however, there was no submission process; the festival's films were chosen only by invitation, said David Kwok, the festival's filmmaker coordinator. And even some of the low-budget ones come with the imprimatur of previous recognition. The festival received more than 1,300 entries, and the winners will be announced at the conclusion of the festival..

The festival will also feature a series of films that grew directly out of Sept. 11, including "Telling Nicholas," a film by James Ronald Whitney about a 7-year-old boy whose father waited 10 days before telling him that his mother had died in the fallen towers, and "From the Ashes   10 Artists" by Deborah Shaffer, which profiles 10 artists as they related their experiences of Sept. 11.

The festival's organizers said their location on Greenwich Avenue between Franklin and North Moore Streets, so close to ground zero, was a constant reminder about the larger purpose of their efforts. "All you have to do is walk out of the building and look left," Ms. Rosenthal said.
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The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
May 11, 2002
Saturday, Home Edition
How a family shared news about Sept. 11;
Documentary a struggle of what to say and when

Byline: Steve Murray

...Living only blocks from the World Trade Center, Whitney had to evacuate his loft during the Sept. 11 attacks. Wandering the streets, he began seeing photocopied fliers of all the people missing in the aftermath of the towers' collapse, including several friends. But it was the image of a stranger, 36-year-old Michele Lanza of Staten Island, N.Y., posing with her 7-year-old son, Nicholas, that caught his eye.

Two days after the calamity, Whitney found his way to Tottenville, where Michele, separated from her husband Robert, lived with Nicholas, not far from the home of her parents and sisters. The Lanza family welcomed Whitney (and his camera) into their home and involved him in their prime dilemma: How to tell the boy that his mother may not be coming home. (With perfect child's logic, Nicholas thought she was lost somewhere in New Jersey.)

...What makes the film so watch able is also what makes it feel, unsettling, like a voyeuristic enterprise. Michele's New Age sister, Susan, shares her ability to see hood-wearing "negative entities" that invisibly surround people, and claims she psychically sensed the moment Michele died. The other sister, Cindy, falls into a grief-induced catatonic state. And their mother, Ethel, faints repeatedly from grief.

When Robert finally tells Nicholas the truth, it almost seems that the young boy is the one family member young and resilient enough to cope with the tragedy.

"Telling Nicholas" devotes partial screen time to the parallel story of a family of Muslim children who lost their father in the WTC attack as well. When the 16-year-old son, Thambir, develops a friendship with young Nicholas, and is eventually welcomed by the Muslim-wary Ethel, the documentary offers a genuine, stirring sense of healing. It keeps "Telling" from feeling totally opportunistic.

GRAPHIC: Photo: The documentary tells the story of Nicholas Lanza, who lost his mother in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. HBO
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James Ronald Whitney's emotional documentary mirrors the World Trade Center tragedy through the eyes of a youngster who doesn't realize his mother was lost in the calamity of Sept. 11. Nicholas' mother worked in the building, which is seen collapsing from an apartment building blocks away. Nicholas' other relatives then have to explain to him the personal impact of what happened.
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NY1 Television Interviews James Ronald Whitney, Director of "Telling Nicholas"


Guest: James Ronald Whitney

One of the of the documentaries screening at the Tribeca Film Festival is Titled Telling Nicholas it can also be see on Sunday, May 12 at 10:00 pm on HBO's America Undercover Sundays. With a preview for us tonight we welcome filmmaker James Ronald Whitney to the show. Nice to have you here.

Thank you for having me.

Umm this is not necessarily easy subject to address. Tell us about the filmand let's start withumI know there are two stories. Let's start with the story on Staten Island--the Lanza family.

Well Nicholas is 7 years old and his mother was killed in the attack and the movie chronicles the 10 days following the attack. 10 days because it took that number of days for Nicholas' father to finally tell his son that his mommy is dead. And so the film deals with the struggles that happen not only with Nicholas' dad but with his grandparents with his aunts--the whole family was in a crisis situation. Also they were expecting Michelle to walk in the door at any moment, and they held out hope till the bitter end. Until Nicholas was finally told and then they realized they couldn't hold out for some miracle and say Mommy may make it after all, and that she may actually be in some pocket of the World Trade Center that had collapsed. They knew that they couldn't have a conflicting story with him. At that moment Nicholas' grandmother faints and finally there is resolve.

Where did the idea come to you to shoot this movie?

Well I live a few blocks North of where the World Trade Center once stood. And I have a loft on the top floor with three skylights and the first plane flew very low and very loudly right over the skylight, and then crashed into one of the towers. Then I went up to the roof and watched the second plane hit Tower Two and had the camera set up and began filming. At that point people started jumping out of the towers. I screamed sounds that had never come out of my mouth before, and stopped counting bodies after about two dozen. The I watched and filmed the first tower collapse then the second tower, and then I ran down the fire escape stairway because there was no electricity or anything and when I got about 20 feet from the building that debris cloud that you've seen so many times pushed me down the street it was about 50 feet behind me, so I literally ran for my life at that point. And all during that time I was just chronicling on camera everything that seemed shocking to me or confusing or horrifying and finally that led me to these missing posters and ultimately to one specific missing flyer--this mother and her child. I'd seen a lot of fathers with their children but this one stood out because it was a mom and there was just something about the face on this little boy. Also, I had worked with a number of children's advocacy centers and decided to start calling some people just to give them hotlines that had been set up in the past for things like child abuse-organizations like Child Help USA, after speaking with Nicholas' aunt they invited me out to Tottenville. I'd never even been to Staten Island.

Now it's a wonderful place Tottenville.


I live not too far from there So so uhh uhh Ron you go out there and do you approach them?How does this idea I mean this is not something that's very natural. I'm sure viewers at home are wondering why would a family let a stranger film them during a sensitive time? Who approached who exactly and whose idea was it? It doesn't seem very natural but obviously they were willing to do it.

Some of them had seen a film I had done on HBO called "Just, Melvin" which dealt with the child molestation in my family, where my grandfather molested pretty much all of my aunts and cousins even my mom. And because of that they knew that I was sensitive to issues surrounding children and when I told them that I was interested in learning how Nicholas' dad was going to deliver this news--because I didn't think there was a model for that--they seemed somewhat receptive to the idea of having something like that chronicled. But it was very confusing . Nicholas' dad brought in a pastor to try to help him deal with the news so initially I was going to be there just filming this pastor's conversation with the family and kind of see what was going to evolve. By the way, the cameras at that point were academic. The family was still expecting their daughter to walk in. So ultimately that night which was day three, Nicholas wasn't told, and then the family decided to wait until the timing just felt right, which was dictated by the father who again waited until the tenth day because of his own struggles. He had this horrible burden of having to say the words " Mommy is dead." to his little boy who was actually at that time convinced that his mom was simply missing in New Jersey--that she had taken a cab, and was lost. And that she was just sort of wandering around out there.

We have a clip tell our viewers. What can we expect to see.

I believe this clip is when Nicholas' dad is actually trying to obtain a DNA sample. Nobody knew how to deal with this crisis at all. We didn't know if more bombs were coming, we didn't know if anthrax was going to infect all of us-we didn't even know how to deal with this DNA samplingwhether identification was effective through hair follicles left in hair brushes, or if saliva samples were more necessary So in this clip, you see Nicholas' dad taking out the swab and swabbing his little boys mouth in order to help identify Michelle should they find her.

OK lets take a look at a scene from the movie, "Telling Nicholas "


That from the film "Telling Nicholas." Was there anything you didn't put in the film that was a bit too painful or will we see everything that transpired?

I did not sugar coat this in any way, shape or form, and my hat really goes off to HBO for that. Shelia Nevins, who is the programmer for this kind of reality movie, allows her filmmakers to tell their stories in an uncensored, unedited way. Had this gone to network it would have been an entirely different movie. Because I saw people jumping out of the World Trade Center, in this film you will actually see a person jumping out--and it's at very close range because I was just a stones throw from the towers. And one thing I'm happy about is that unlike the CBS World Trade Center Movie that Jules Naudet did, I didn't censor any of my footage--I didn't edit anything out. And one of the most painful things to watch in this movie is the moment when Nicholas' father actually utters those three most horrifying words to his son, "Mommy is dead." And again, unlike HBO, I think that would have been too much for the networks to handle. Also, it helped that this story is uninterrupted because with home box office, there are no commercials. I applaud Sheila Nevins incredibly for the liberty she allows her filmmakers to have when it comes to dealing with reality in the most hard-hitting way.

There is another screening tomorrow at the festival is that correct?

Tomorrow at 11:30 at the Tribeca Grand Screening Room. And then the film actually has its broadcast premier on Mother's Day--this Sunday, following Six Feet Under at 10 PM eastern standard time on HBO, which is appropriate, because the final words in the film are actually delivered by Nicholas when he says, "I love you mom." And as tragic as this story is in many ways after you hear this little boy say those words, and everything goes to black, you realize that Michelle was a very alive person when she was with us, and it's apparent that even in her absence--in her death--she is going to affect so many people. I think Nicholas will be proud when he is older and actually sees this film. Proud of the impact his mom had on so many who have already seen this let alone when the actual broadcast occurs this Mother's Day.

Newscaster:James Ronald Whitney Writer, director, producer of "Telling Nicholas." Thank you for your time tonight.

Thank you for having me, John.

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Rick Sanchez Interviews James Ronald Whitney, Director of "Telling Nicholas"

Let's head to our next story for this segment. This is an interesting story, September 11, a range of emotions for all Americans, from hard ache, to sorrow, to anger, to hate. There's a new documentary out, it's called "Telling Nicholas". It premiers at 10pm eastern tonight on HBO. It follows the lives of two families who experienced all of those after a losing a loved one during the attack. Filmmaker James Ronald Whitney lives blocks from ground zero. He actually was able to shoot the footage! At at it was happening and you can imagine what his experiences are. I look forward to watching this tonight. James why is it called "Telling Nicholas"?

Well Nicholas is a seven-year-old boy, whose mother was killed in the attack and it took his father ten days to ultimately tell his son that mommy is dead, and not coming home, and that certainly is the core of the movie.

How'd you find that family?

It was one of the thousands of missing fliers that had been posted all across Manhattan.

Oh I remember those when I was covering this story that I would be in that area and I would look at all these faces of all these people put on these walls and people would walk by and suddenly they'd recognize somebody and they would start crying. I mean that was the scene there everyday in lower Manhattan. It was incredible. And you live there.

Yea, and I had no phone service and had been evacuated from my loft, so I was wandering around looking at those flyers to see if there were any people I knew, because I also work on Wall Street. And the first flier I saw that pictured a mother with her child, was that of Nicholas and his mom. It just hit me very hard and I took down the name and number and the real impetus for contacting the family was to provide them with some child crisis information that was being set up like I work with a lot of child advocacy agencies and I wanted to give them some of the hotline numbers and just try to help--if there was anyway to help.

I think we have a clip of your documentary so lets go ahead lets go ahead and take that now so viewers at home could some of it.

[Clip #1 shown. ]
Whitney says, "I got down to the street and I ran as fast as I could from the debris cloud that was right behind me. I was suddenly without a home, water, electricity, gas, phone, and I didn't care because I was certain that some of the people in the trade center were people I knew".

This is a first person thing isn't James? This is this is your story and I understand you were sitting there recording and you recorded some awful things some things that you know its early in the morning its Sunday, people are going to be able to see that tonight on your documentary were not showing now. You experienced it first hand.

Sure, I live on the top floor of a loft and I also have the roof and the first plane flew right over my skylight, very low and very loudly.

You saw it?

That plane crashed into the first tower, and then I went upstairs to the terrace and watched the second plane hit tower two. Then I watched and filmed both of the towers collapsing, and more than two dozen people jumping from the towers to their deaths. It's the most horrifying thing I ever seen.

I can only imagine. This is remarkable because it sounds like what you've done James is you not only captured not only what happened that day but you captured the feeling that last long after the event.

Well it's very simple to focus on the collapse of the towers and the removal of the skyline, with which were all familiar.


but the important story to me was the collapse of these families that were in crises and the removal of the infrastructures of their families that once existed. This film chronicles ten days beginning with the day of the attack--that's it--and it's very easy to watch this and think, oh this is the end of the story. Well, this story continues for all of these families. They're still coping. They're still dealing with the aftermath of the destruction. Quite frankly, days eleven through twenty were probably just as interesting in some ways as days one through ten. "Telling Nicholas" is a true tragic story, and the subjects are a real American family, and for the first time people are going to get a glimpse of the pain they've gone through. But it's also a story of survival. In fact, at the end of the movie you hear Nicholas Lanza say the closing words-"I love you mom."

We've got one more clip we want to see. We want to look at this more toward the end I'm told, let go ahead and take a look at that this is you, this Nicholas pardon me as you had mentioned before saying bye to his mother. Lets take a listen.

[Clip #2 is shown.]
Nicholas says, "I wish you could watch, me grow up. After the memorial dad took me to the dollar store. And grandma and grandpa walked home with my new friend, Thanbir, for cake and ice cream. This is Nicholas Lanza signing off. I love you mom."

Tough to watch.

It's important to know that Nicholas always wanted to be on TV. He wanted to be a newscaster. The horrible thing here, is that he's actually reporting the story of his mom's memorial. It's bittersweet that this movie will air on Mother's Day, because its so much about how this little boy was able to survive this tragedy and how the father survived telling his son that his mommy is dead. And to answer your initial question that's why the movie is called "Telling Nicholas."

That's a great story. Look forward to it. Tonight 10pm HBO. And should be quiet a story a lot of people should see it. James thanks for being here. Thanks for sharing that with us.

Thank you

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Transcript of "Telling Nicholas" interview.
CNNfn: The Biz.

Pat Kiernan:
Sunday is Mother's Day. For many families it will be a painful one. September 11th left many heart breaking stories, including one that will be told on HBO next Sunday night. When the twin towers collapsed, filmmaker James Whitney grabbed his camera and ended up focusing on the family of seven-year-old Nicholas, whose mother was killed in the attack. His documentary, " Telling Nicholas," began with a photo.

V.O. excerpt from "Telling Nicholas":
"There were thousands of flyers with faces of missing loved ones. And everywhere you turned there were pictures of parents and their children. But the very first flyer that caught my eye showed the picture of a little boy with his mother who was missing. Her name is Michele Lanza. Before I knew it I was on my way to the one borough I'd never stepped foot on. And to a town I've never even heard of, to meet the family of Michele Lanza and her seven-year-old son, Nicholas. They live in Staten Island in the last town in New York. The little town of Tottenville."

Pat Kiernan:
And joining us now is filmmaker, and Vice President at The Royal Bank of Canada, James Whitney. That's a short glimpse of how you get into this film. Difficult story to tell. Difficult road to go down in those early days. What sparked this journey?

J.R. Whitney:
Well I live just a few blocks from where the twin towers once stood. And I'm in a loft on the top floor, where I also have a roof terrace. The first plane flew right over one of my skylights, obviously very low and very loudly only seconds before hitting tower one. I ran up the stairs, and I stood there watching, only to watch the next plane hit tower two.

Pat Kiernan:
And at some point shortly after this you began shooting some video?

J.R. Whitney:
Directly after that. And I shot both of the towers collapsing before I was evacuated from my building. And by the time I got to my corner that debris cloud was huge. I started running from it, because it was only about 50 feet behind me. It was total chaosI saw firefighters with strollers over their heads running down the street, and basically began filming everything in sight for the next ten days. Which is what this story is about.

Pat Kiernan:
At what point did you make this transition from shooting what was going on around you to actually taking some direction with this? And moving down this road to tell this story?

J.R. Whitney:
The first time I came up for air I started wondering how many people I knew that were killed in the collapse of the towers, because I also work on Wall Street. I started looking at the missing flyers down at the Armory and at St. Vincent's, and I saw this one flyer of a mother with a child. I had seen several with fathers and their children. And I immediately started writing down numbers, because I was going to contact the families and let them know that there are organizations out there like, Love Our Children USA, Child Help USA. This is my third film that deals with children. I just wanted to let people know that there is some support out there, because a number of parents were eventually going to have to tell their children that their mother is dead or that their father is dead. When I called the family of Michele Lanza, I heard the turmoil in the voice of Michele's sister. The family didn't know what to do. The father, Robert was estranged from Nicholas, his 7-year-old son, and from his wife, Michele, Nicholas' mother. Robert and Michele had been separated for the last year, and he had no idea how to tell this little boy that his mom is dead. And on top of that the family was convinced that Michele was going to come walking through that door. They thought that she was still alive, that she was trapped, and that she couldn't get out, or that she was lost and couldn't find her way back home.

Pat Kiernan:
So at what point do you make the turn from contacting the families, offering some assistance to them, to actually taking the step of making a film about them? Because that can be an intrusive process.

J.R. Whitney:
As a filmmaker my style is to film what I'm interested in. In this case what I was shocked and horrified by. I was filming everything, not quite shaping anything at that point. But what I realized was that Nicholas' dad had no idea what to tell his little boy, and had no idea what to expect if he were to tell Nicholas the most horrible news that a child could be told. I realized that there is something very important here. When Nicholas finally does hear the news from his father, a thousand pounds are lifted off of Robert's shoulders, because he realized that a child can hear something as horrible as this and survive it. And there are certain band-aids Nicholas asked for that were particularly interesting. He wanted ice cream. He wanted to go to the dollar store. He wanted a new Mommy. He wanted to go the bakery. So as horrible as all of this is, hopefully it can serve as some sort of model. Because telling children news like this is not specific to the Trade Center situation. Parents die of cancer everyday, car wrecks everyday. This kind of news has to be disseminated on a regular basis, and not only with parents. It could be an aunt, uncle, brother, sister, grandparent

Pat Kiernan:
That's the story of the film. The business story behind it is always interesting as well. You have an existing relationship with HBO. What happened when you brought this idea to them?

J.R. Whitney:
Well my last film was about my family, who was molested by my grandfather. And then my grandfather raped and strangled the social worker who was assigned to protect them, right in front of them. And the thing I love about HBO, specifically Shelian Evans who is at the helm for the "America Undercover" Sunday night movie series is that she doesn't force her filmmakers to sugar coat anything. This is reality in its most hard-hitting form. There's no glossing over. There's no soft-pedaling. And both with that film and this film she has virtually given me carte blanche and said, " Listen it is an incredibly powerful movie, and we want it told exactly as you've told it." So in "Telling Nicholas" you see a a person jumping from one of the towers. That's because I saw 24 or more people jump from the towers. That's what the reality was and is! And that's what a lot of programming shies away from. HBO does not shy away from life's hard knocks, nor does Shelian Evans, and I give her incredible pats on the back.

Pat Kiernan:
James Ronald Whitney thanks for being here. James Whitney is the filmmaker of
"Telling Nicholas" its not this Sunday, but next Sunday on HBO, Right?

J.R. Whitney:
It's actually this Sunday.

Pat Kiernan:
All right.

J.R. Whitney:
On Mother's Day.

Pat Kiernan:
Ok, this Sunday.

J.R. Whitney:
Following "Six Feet Under."

Pat Kiernan:
James Whitney thank you. Then that's it for " The Biz" today. We'll be looking in on Monday at the Broadcast network's rolling of their fall schedules. We'll have updates on television's big week. Join us again on Monday at noon eastern time. Have a good day.

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One of the subjects of Whitney's movie,
"Telling Nicholas," THANBIR AHMED

There you have it. That is Nicholas that lost his mom in the 9/11 attack. The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center left many families as you know without their loved ones. A new documentary brings that story to life. It documents the family struggle to tell a seven year-old that his mommy won't be coming home, isn't just lost in Manhattan, she was killed. With us is James Ronald Whitney, the director of 'Telling Nicholas' and Thanbir Ahmed, a young man who appears in the film, and you also lost your dad in the World Trade Center.

Welcome both of you.

Thank you.

I watched last night so on Mother's day, on HBO everyone will see this. I had the privilege of seeing it last night, and you're a documentation who lives right next to the World Trade Center. You see this happening, you whip out your camera and start taping. Did you have any idea where this was going when you were first started rolling?

No, I first looked at the hole that was in Tower One, and had a still camera and started photographing that and then watched the second plane fly into Tower Two and it was at that point that I set up the cameras just to, sort of chronicle what was going on. I didn't even realize that we were under terrorist attack at that point, as ridiculous as it sounds, I thought there was simply an air traffic control problem or something malfunctioning.

Hey we were on the air. We thought the same thing.

Yep. And when the Pentagon was hit, that's when I realized that this was terrorist activity obviously, and I just continued shooting-and the movie chronicles ten days , beginning with the day of the attack.

But you personalized it. You went over and you looked at all the missing people on the air. On the board rather, of everyone that was so hopeful that there people, (that thought) their relatives were in hospitals and as we know it didn't happen. You saw Nicholas, and you saw this man.

I'd seen a number of flyers with a father and a child, but the one that caught my eye showed a picture of this little boy, Nicholas, with his mother, and since I've worked with a lot of children's advocacy groups I made a call to Nicholas' family. I was just going to give then the names of some of these assistance organizations like, Child help USA--some of the help-lines that are set up to assist children in a crisis.


And after speaking to Nicholas's aunt...

And that's Nicholas and his mother.

(showing a picture of the two on-screen)

and his mother's right there, yeah. And after speaking with Michele's sister, Nicholas's aunt, the family invited me over, because the father was having such a difficult time telling his son that his mother may not be coming home.

Hoping that maybe in three or four days that she'd turn up he wouldn't have to explain again that she's back.


And who wants to do that? And that scene is one the, as emotional as you'll ever find in the history of television. You have to monitor it as a producer, in the neighbor's yard, you know, you're over there, and you have to listen to it, who knows what's going on, that mom isn't missing, that she's past away. Now Thanbir, you found out right away that your father passed away.

Yeah, right away in school someone at school told me...

He was in the Windows of the World.

that he was in the Windows of the World, on the 107th floor and what happened was someone had told me that someone had crashed on the top of the towers. And I was like 'What?' And on the way home I was told that the building had collapsed and then I realized that I had just inferred that my dad was dead because previously, in 93, it took him five hours for him to get out, alone. So I thought there was no way he could get out, so

How do you link up with Nicholas in this, because you're both going threw the same thing but drastically different ages.

Right, right. We're from two different worlds totally. And what happened was when Ron came over to my house, he invited me to go over on some of the shoots at Nicholas's house. There I met Nicholas and his family and at that point Nicholas hadn't been told yet that his mother had passed away and at first it was awkward meeting his grandmother and his grandfather who weren't that appealing to Muslims. And from that point of I became

Not appealing, they have hatred! Obviously like many of the victims two-thousand plus that lost their lives there. They have hatred, and they see a guy from Bangladesh.

Right, and eventually we became great friends. I went to his mom's memorial and I took him trick or treating, and I spent Christmas with them. So it was great afterwards

Did you think to yourself 'I shouldn't be here' at any point? This is so painfully personal, this is the inner working of a family, maybe I don't belong here.

No. The reason I do documentaries is that I find reality, raw reality to be an incredibly powerful fact of life. And that's why HBO acquired this project--nobody else could do have broadcast it. Home Box Office allowed the unimaginable to be imagined through the footage that you were just showing. The movie is uncencored. So when Nicholas is told that his mom is dead, it's not soft-peddled. I felt that it was important to chronicle this conversation, because there was no model for what would transpire in a situation like this: 'What was the father going to go through?' 'What was the son going to go through?'

And the sister's almost catatonic

Actually she was catatonic. You see her just rocking, back and forth.

Who refuses to say a word, and she has kids, and then the mom, the grandmother has to really start raising these kids again. Her life has been turned on it's ear.

Sure. That same mom, Michele's mother, was talking in detail about how she wanted Muslims tortured. Nicholas' grandmother wanted heir finger nails ripped off, their eyes ripped out, their hair plucked out one strand at a time--and she says 'men, women and children, because there's going to be another generation of terrorists just like them if we don't take care of this one.' But after getting to know Thanbir, realizing that his father is also dead, she understood that there was something her grandson, Nicholas, had in common with this particular Muslim-16-year-old Thanbir. And ultimately, the bond between these two boys became so strong that in the end as Thanbir just mentioned, he spent holidays at Nicholas' grandparent's house..

(looking over to Ahmed) And finally you doing something so proactive, you were walking around with people saying 'win twenty dollars, point out Afghanistan, tell us where everything is.' That's how you're dealing with your unspeakable sorrow?

Right, I'm also dealing with, after helping Nicholas deal with the tragedy I came up with an idea for a day to recognize all the kids who lost a parent, National Orphan's Day. And since technically an orphan is a child without one or no parents, and now it's kid's day and hoping to put an event in Central Park for all the kids who lost parents. As well as incredible kids.

Right. You're an incredible guy, your dad's so proud of you and he has do be so proud of you, and you should be really proud of yourself.

Thank You.

Alright. Great. Very important, and I think it's so important as the administration and the rest of the country goes 'do you realize what happened on 9/11?' Naturally people forget, watch this documentary and suddenly you realize how many people were effected. Very important documentary, you did a great job. I wouldn't have liked to look threw the raw footage of this to edit it down. Telling Nicholas is the name of it if you want to see it and I'm sure you do 10:00 on HBO. Thanbir and James Ronald Whitney, thanks so much for your time.

Thank You.

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   © 2001-03 James Ronald Whitney
See the Web sites for the director's other films: Just, Melvin, and Games People Play
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