JAMES RONALD WHITNEY
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
Welcome both of you.
WHITNEY & AHMED:
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 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 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 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
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
(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
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
WHITNEY & AHMED: