[aka: Project Rebirth]

Cinematography by Thomas Lappin

Edited by Kevin Filippini

Music by Phillip Glass

Produced by Jim Whitaker & David Solomon

Directed by Jim Whitaker



Production Studio: 

Video: Oscilloscope Laboratories



Resolution: 480i

Aspect Ratio:

Codec: MPEG-2

Runtime: 108 minutes

Chapters: 18

Region: All



English Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Digital 2.0


Subtitles: Optional English SDH


Extras Disc One:

• Video Commentary with Director Jim Whitaker and Photographer Thomas Lappin

• 4 Oscilloscope Trailers

Extras Disc Two:

• Project Rebirth : 14 cameras, 24 hours (3:45)

• Extended cut of the time-lapse footage (89.10)



Custom gatefold paper DVD case w/ slipcover

DVD x 2

Release Date: September 6, 2011

The Movie: 7

Ah - the unthinkable – September 11, 2001 - the catastrophe from which it seemed impossible that one could re-enter anything like a normal life.  All the same, we humans pride ourselves on our adaptability.  While each person goes through their own grief process, we generally do not do it alone. And while we may not feel whole afterward we are often the stronger for having gone through it.  For however bountiful its gifts, ours is a savage planet with our species having made its own unique contribution.


The layout of the film is an interesting one.  Though the timeline is somewhat confusing at first, Rebirth follows the reconstruction of the lives of five people who were closely touched by the disaster, intercutting annual interviews of these people with the reconstruction of Ground Zero.  As the films progresses, the camera follows them out of the safety of the interview room and into their lives.




Director Jim Whitaker and Photographer Thomas Lappin arranged the interviews in much the same way as Warren Beatty did with his “witnesses” for his 1981 film, “Reds” – a plain black background and simple lighting.  Considering the openness of his subjects and their courage to return year after year, I wondered if they had started with more and edited the number to five because of dropouts for one reason or other.  I also wondered if they knew how long they were going to keep this up before they knew they had what they needed for a film.



Extras: 8

The documentary doesn’t answer these questions, but the accompanying commentary with director Jim Whitaker and photographer Thomas Lappin does.  The respect and depth of appreciation for those that participated in their film, even those who had to drop out, is quite touching.  The story the filmmakers tell in their commentary makes for something of a documentary in itself, so I definitely urge you to give them a listen even if you attend only to the audio.


Oscilloscope’s extra features, especially those on the second disc, make clear that “Project Rebirth” is more expansive than what we can see in their finished film.  One ambitious aspect of the project was to document whatever was to become of Ground Zero.  To this end Lappin and his team set up fourteen cameras in a permanent array around the site in order to take time lapse images (one frame every five seconds), 24 hours/day, rain, snow, or shine.  Ambitious, certainly, but after watching just some of the footage of the 90-minute rough cut of nine years worth of material I don’t envy the job of making sense out of it.




That said, the “Rebirth” feature documentary takes ample and excellent advantage of that time lapse footage, and I found it quite sufficient.  (On a personal note, the photographer in me flashed on much the same idea soon after the 9/11 attacks, but I would never have followed through, lacking the necessary resources and passion.  Having seen both the documentary and the time lapse rough cut, I’m glad I didn’t.)


Image: 5~8/6

Considering the description detailed in the accompanying commentary of how the interviews were set up, I am frankly astonished at the weakness of those sections of the documentary, though they do look better in later years.  The interviews, we are told, are filmed with a soft light, but this hardly prepares us for the thinness of the image.  A soft light does not equal an absence of sharpness. It’s quite striking.  In a couple instances, the exposure appears to be in question, and the amount of reflection in the glasses of one of the participants and off the faces of others suggest an amateurishness that is not evident elsewhere.  As if they are learning their craft as they go, the interviews are shot much more professionally as the years progress.  We know none of this is the fault of the transfer since all the other well-lit parts of the documentary look just fine.




Audio & Music: 8/9

Oscilloscope offers both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes.  Contrary to my usual feeling about films where I have reason to believe there is no original surround track, I prefer the 5.1 in this case.  The dialogue is unaffected (for a change) but Phillip Glass’s Koyaanisquatsiesque score is shown to its best and correct advantage only in this mode.


Recommendation: 8

Most of the credit for this unique documentary has to go to the five participants, whose willingness to bare themselves in what could have been a maudlin exercise in patriotic sentimentality, should get a standing ovation.  As a study in the triumph of the human spirit (a cliché, I know) “Rebirth” is likely to stand by itself, a project that is unlikely to ever be repeated, whether or not we are victim to further such attacks.  Despite my reservations about some of the image quality and the commentary, this DVD gets my heartfelt recommendation.




Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

September 3, 2011

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