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With the university community reflecting on the anniversary of Sept. 11, “Project Rebirth” filmmaker Jim Whitaker (CAS ’90) came to campus on Wednesday for an early screening and conversation about the documentary that chronicles the aftermath of that fateful day.

“I think that the film in many respects is really a film about grief and how we cope with it and that although it was 9/11, the universality of grief and the difficulty [is something] we all experience,” Whitaker said.

The 30-minute preview featured four of the 10 people affected by Sept. 11 who are interviewed in the film. Each year on Sept. 11, Whitaker spoke with the 10 subjects and let them air their feelings and emotions about their lives. Over the six-year time span between 2001 and 2007, viewers are able to see how these people’s lives changed as they coped with the tragedy.

Whitaker is currently the president of production for Imagine Entertainment, which is responsible for films such as “Friday Night Lights,”Curious George” and “Cinderella Man.”

A month after Sept. 11, Whitaker went to New York City to attend a college friend’s wedding. While in the city, Whitaker decided to visit Ground Zero. Only one month after the attacks, it was still filled with debris and the distinct smell of the burning remains.

“I thought to myself, one day there is going to be a museum here, and if there is, wouldn’t it be great to be able to show people what it looked like in the beginning and take them to a place where it looked different, and wouldn’t it be great because there would be a sense of hope.” Whitaker said.

Whitaker put his idea into action and placed three cameras around Ground Zero that were programmed to take pictures every five minutes 24 hours a day. Today, the project has grown to include 12 cameras situated in strategic locations in and around Ground Zero.

Additionally, he was able to find 10 subjects for the focus of the piece. As the filming process wore on, he decided to build a center for people to cope with grief from traumatic events like Sept. 11.

These pictures were then incorporated into his film “Project Rebirth” as part of multiple time-lapsed sequences through which viewers could see how Ground Zero changed over time.

Whitaker then enlisted help from other Georgetown alumni to help finance and plan his new idea. Eventually, Brian Rafferty (CAS ’79) became chairman of the Project Rebirth, Inc. organization.

“Georgetown is so much in the sort of DNA of this that to me, coming back here and being here seven years after the fact is beyond an honor,” Whitaker said.

Yesterday, Whitaker and his film crew were across the country filming the final year of interviews with the 10 subjects.

According to Whitaker, the full-length feature film will be released in theaters in 2010 and the cameras around Ground Zero will continue to operate until 2015.

“Project Rebirth,” the film, will be permanently displayed at the Ground Zero Museum and every hour of video footage will be archived at Columbia University.

“I have no doubt that this film that we are about to see will deepen the conversation about trauma and healing after Sept. 11 and remind us of the role that the media can play [as the] kind of force that it can be to help people, communities and nations understand, remember and move forward after tragic events,” DeGioia said.

The event was sponsored by Georgetown University, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and Project Rebirth, Inc.

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