Nicholas" has been featured on (to name a few):
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
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
16-year-old Thanbir Ahmed, a Muslim, whose father was killed in
attack. Ahmed joined Whitney and Fire Island Films' executive producer
Richard Reichgut, at the Awards Ceremony.
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
producer Sheila Nevins and producer Lisa Heller for helping to
world that although the New York City skyline can and will be rebuilt,
families who lost their loved-ones will be at a loss forever.
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."
Nicholas" will have an Encore Presentation
10th on HBO (see your local guide for details). For more information
" Telling Nicholas" visit http://www.TellingNicholas.com. 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 http://www.JamesRonaldWhitney.com.
Sep 4, 2011 10:00 AM EDT
On Sept. 13, 2001, the Chamberlain family of Staten Island, N.Y., got a call from a documentary filmmaker named James Ronald Whitney. Amid the sea of "missing" fliers tacked up all over downtown, one photo in particular had caught his eye: it showed 36-year-old Michele Lanza (née Chamberlain), an administrative assistant on the 97th floor of the South Tower, with her 7-year-old son, Nicholas. Whitney asked for permission to keep a vigil with the family and tell the story of mother and son.
The result was the Emmy-winning 2002 HBO documentary Telling Nicholas, which captured the agonizing wait for news of Michele and the moment when her husband, Robert, finally breaks the news of her death to their son.
For the Chamberlain family, the personal tragedy was compounded by the fact that Michele had just embarked on a new life. Recently separated, she had moved from Virginia back to her childhood neighborhood, found a job, and settled Nicholas into first grade. "She was finding herself again," says Susan Chamberlain, Michele's younger sister.
As the cameras rolled, Michele's family waited, swept up into hope and dread, guilt, and anger. Her sister Cindy agonized that if Michele hadn't stopped to call her when the first plane hit the North Tower, she might have made it out. (They later learned how, as a floor manager, Michele delayed her own evacuation to round up others.) Their mother, Ethel, went from being hopeful to vengeful. "Death is too easy for them," she says of the terrorists. "I want them tortured. Tortured."
Robert waited 10 days to tell Nicholas what it meant that Mommy was "lost," during which time the young boy consoled himself that she was on a "special street" downtown or else "took a cab to New Jersey."
"Did they find her?" Nicholas asks, as his father embraces him and leans into his ear. "Mom's not going to be coming home, little man," he says. "Mom has died, OK?"
Telling Nicholas on BIO Australia
Nicholas' Nominated for Emmy Award James Ronald Whitney's
TV-Film Explores Child's Reaction to Losing Mom in 9-11
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.
more about "Telling Nicholas,"
visit the website at
More news from PR Newswire...
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All Rights Reserved.
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Headline News Entertainment Report
Nicholas Interview with Alicia Davis and James Ronald
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.'
Nicholas' is heart-wrenching
tells true story of a boy
who lost his mother Sept. 11
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
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.
ANOTHER FAMILY, ANOTHER LOSS
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
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
Announces First Frame by Frame Series in San Francisco
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
-- Brian Brooks
9/11: Too Much? Too Soon?
By JULIE SALAMON
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.
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.
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
It all seems very fast... In our speeded-up culture, we want
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...
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
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.
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.
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.
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
As we continue to be reminded, who isn't feeling more
vulnerable these days?
Monday, April 16, 2002
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
-- Eugene Hernandez
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
HEADLINE: TRIBECA FEST ADDING 'YA-YA'
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
"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
E A T U R E S T O R Y
Tribeca Film Festival Opens with Splash
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
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
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
GOOD DRAMA TRUMPS GOOD TASTE FOR SHEILA NEVINS.
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 boost...giving 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.
ALL NEW SEASON:
"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 again--is...an 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."
HBO's Executive Vice President of Original Programming
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
BY MIKE REYNOLDS
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
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
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
"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."
Festival Celebrates Film and Resilience
by Robin Pogrebin, May 7, 2002
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
"As it goes on, hopefully it will define itself," Mr.
De Niro said.
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
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
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..
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
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.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution
May 11, 2002
Saturday, Home Edition
a family shared news about Sept. 11;
Documentary a struggle of what to say and when
Byline: Steve Murray
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
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
GRAPHIC: Photo: The documentary tells the story
of Nicholas Lanza, who lost his mother in the Sept.
11 terrorist attacks. HBO
TELLING NICHOLAS 10 p.m. HBO
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.
Television Interviews James Ronald Whitney, Director
of "Telling Nicholas"
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 uh...an 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
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, www.childtrauma.org--and 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
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 "
[CLIP FROM THE MOVIE, "TELLING
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.
Ronald Whitney Writer, director, producer of "Telling
Nicholas." Thank you for your time tonight.
Thank you for having me, John.
Sanchez Interviews James Ronald Whitney, Director of
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 www.childtrauma.org.
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.
#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
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
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.
#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.
of "Telling Nicholas" interview.
CNNfn: The Biz.
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.
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
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?
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.
And at some point shortly after this you began shooting
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.
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
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 www.childtrauma.org, 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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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?
It's actually this Sunday.
On Mother's Day.
Ok, this Sunday.
Following "Six Feet Under."
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.
JAMES RONALD WHITNEY
One of the subjects of Whitney's movie,
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.
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
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
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 www.childtrauma.org, 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
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
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.
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