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A documentary about the seven-year odyssey to design and construct the 9/11 Memorial plaza in New York City. Read more

New York, NY Documentary
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This project was successfully funded on July 13, 2014.

A documentary about the seven-year odyssey to design and construct the 9/11 Memorial plaza in New York City.

New York, NY Documentary
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About this project

Thanks to all of the amazing support, we've met our goal! $50,000 was the minimum amount needed to complete the film, but we always hoped to hire an editor for the project. We're looking to get to $65,000 to make this happen! Can you help?

The Trees is also fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts. If you'd like to make a fully tax deductible gift in any amount to support the film, you can do so here. Payment can easily be made by check or credit card (no need to set up an account).

Seven years ago, I met a landscape architect who was working on the nascent 9/11 Memorial. He told me the amazing story of what he and his colleagues were calling "The Trees:" over 400 oak trees, growing in huge boxes at a nursery in New Jersey and destined for the 9/11 Memorial. Each individual tree had been chosen from nurseries, yards, fields, even roadsides throughout New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland -- all places directly affected by the 9/11 attacks. Over the next few years these trees -- by then thirty to forty feet tall -- would be trucked in a massive moving effort into Manhattan and planted at the 9/11 Memorial. When finished, the Memorial Park would create a virtual forest in lower Manhattan. A downtown park to echo in importance Bryant Park, and, the creators hoped, Central Park. This forest would be planted on top of a seven-story, below-ground museum and, when completed, would be one of the largest, most sustainable and innovative roof-top gardens in the world.

I was hooked.

But more than just a great story of designing and building an environmentally important public space, I loved the symbolism and metaphor of "The Trees:" the powerful idea of rebirth and renewal, and that something living and ever-changing would be incorporated into a memorial to 9/11. I've always been interest in the way that public spaces exist and function in New York, and this forest was being created at one of the city's most important public spaces: Ground Zero. Memorials often incorporate elements of nature. How would the trees function as part of this very urban memorial?  How would the 9/11 families and survivors react to the memorial, the trees? How would the public, New Yorkers, and tourists, use it? What would it come to mean as a public space, beyond being hallowed ground? 

These are the questions I set out to answer. 

Five years later, I've filmed over 300 hours of footage, conducted countless interviews, followed the stories of numerous people as they worked on the memorial, and traveled to Pennsylvania, San Francisco, and, many times, to New Jersey.  Because this is a story I was passionate about and believed in, I did it all on my own dime, squeezing in shoots between working on corporate and non-profit client videos. Now, I need your help.

In order to finish the film, we need to raise $50,000 to pay for post-production expenses like music, sound mixing, animation, and archival video footage. We sincerely hope that you will help us bring this important and yet-to-be-told story to life. 

The project will be completed by November 2014, ahead of spring film festival deadlines. We hope to premiere the film in early 2015. While there are absolutely no guarantees in this business, I am confident that it will picked up for distribution. Please help us make this film a reality!

Please pass along this Kickstarter campaign to anyone you think may be interested. Like us on Facebook and tweet about the campaign @thetreesfilm. Getting the word out on social media is going to be the key factor in making The Trees become a reality!

Our guides on this journey are the team of builders and designers charged with turning this public space into reality, with growing an urban forest at the memorial site. We follow the architects, arborists, and engineers who build and manage one of the most intricate construction sites in the world. It is an emotional journey, marked by battles over design and seemingly insurmountable engineering challenges. Despite setbacks, the team holds fast to the vision of a day when visitors, survivors, and victims’ families will gather under the branches of the Memorial, inspired by the beauty and peace of the site to remember, grieve, and heal.

A key player in the film is Peter Walker, the renowned landscape architect who created the overall vision of the project. One of Walker’s central themes was the idea of the park representing the cycle of life, growth, and constant renewal. Every detail, from the type of trees, to where they come from, to how they are grown and pruned, to where they are placed on the site, is linked to this idea. As Walker explains, “the trees are terribly important to us. They’re the things that change the site from any other site downtown or anywhere else in New York.” 

Head arborist Jason Bond of Bartlett Tree Experts individually cares for each of the 400 Swamp White Oaks. For four years, as the trees grow in large boxes at a nursery in New Jersey, we follow Bond as he regularly checks on the trees and notes their health, height, and when they change colors in the fall.

At the construction site that will become the 9/11 Memorial, we meet project manager Ron Vega, who has been working at the World Trade Center site since just after the attacks. We follow Vega as he visits the “Survivor Tree," a pear tree that was one of the only plants at the World Trade Center Plaza to survive the September 11th attacks. It has grown from a burnt stump not four feet high into a thirty-foot beauty. Vega supervises its move from a Bronx nursery to its new home at the Memorial Site, an emotional journey.

Here is a five-minute video about Vega's work with Survivor Tree:

From the US Forest Service's Northern Research Station in Queens, social scientists Lindsay Campbell and Erika Svendsen contextualize the importance of trees and nature in the act of memorializing tragedy. The idea of a "living memorial" is not new, they say: “For centuries, humans have used nature as a symbolic and innate response to mark the cycles of life.”

While documenting the labor of these and many other individuals who care for, monitor, and study the trees, we constantly return to the trees as characters. The film follows the trees over five years, documenting their growth, care, and transport to the site. We see how they adapt to their new home and watch their seasonal changes as the 10th anniversary approaches. Eventually, in the spring of 2014, the Plaza opens to the general public for use without reservations or security checks. We document this key moment, when the public can finally experience the trees as they were meant to be experienced. Throughout the seasons -- from winter when they are bare, to the summer when they provide leafy shade -- the trees provide a place for people to gather, rest, sleep, laugh, and cry. Interstitial scenes throughout the film serve as a visual meditation on how humans interact with trees, the role of nature in memorials, and how the seasonal change of the trees offers a beautiful and poignant reminder of the cycle of life, and the possibility of hope and rebirth. 

The Trees are only one of the many beautiful elements of the Memorial, and the documentary explores the entire space, but we always return to the trees as our central focus. They are the central characters in our story.

The film is shot in a observational documentary style and weaves together archival images, formal interviews, and hand-drawn animation to tell this visually engaging story. Through animated cutaways and details, viewers will fully understand what makes this green rooftop garden one of the largest and most sophisticated systems in the world

Producer/Director Scott Elliott 

I was working on my first PBS documentary 20 blocks away from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Like all New Yorkers, I was deeply effected by witnessing the events that day, and I often thought about making a video about 9/11. Four years later, I fortuitously met a landscape-architect who was working on the design of the Memorial plaza. I was immediately drawn in. Here was a story few knew about, one that brought together my passions for gardening, architecture, and stories about New York City. I quickly saw the project as a way to showcase the engaging and unsung designers, builders, and arborists deeply involved in the 9/11 Memorial. And further, it was a way to explore deeper themes, such as how communities memorialize loss and how memorials can function simultaneously as vibrant public spaces and places of remembrance within urban environments.

I am a Brooklyn, NY, based filmmaker. My first feature length documentary, Slumming It: Myth and Culture on the Bowery, about the history of the Bowery in New York City, aired on PBS in July 2005 on the series Reel New York. In 2003, I founded the production company 590films, which produces films for educational and non-profit organizations. This is my second Kickstarter campaign. My first was for post-production funds for my film about plastic pollution in the ocean, Into the Gyre, and was successfully funded (and finished) in 2012. The film went on to win numerous awards at international film festivals. 

Co-Producer Matt Ozug

Matt is a documentary video and radio producer. His radio stories have aired on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition and The World. His piece "Parents at an Execution" won a Thurgood Marshall Journalism Award. In 2003, he helped launch the Peabody Award-winning StoryCorps project. Matt has reported internationally from countries such as Pakistan, South Sudan, and Cambodia. As a staff reporter for PRI’s America Abroad, Matt’s stories included profiles of former child soldiers in Uganda, survivors of the USS Cole Bombing, and a union of Brazilian prostitutes. He co-produced the radio series The Arab World’s Demographic Dilemma, winner of the 2010 Sigma Delta Chi prize from the Society of Professional Journalists. Matt studied at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University.

Writer Julia Elliott

Julia's first film project was as co-writer and co-producer of the award-winning feature film Windhorse, which tells the story of one Tibetan family’s struggle under Chinese occupation.  Her production credits include several nationally broadcast PBS documentaries: This Far by Faith: African American Spiritual Journeys, Race: The Power of an Illusion, The Supreme Court, and The Old Man and the Storm. She was a co-writer on Slumming It: Myth and Culture on the Bowery and Into the Gyre.  She graduated from Wesleyan University, received a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School, and a master’s in writing from Johns Hopkins University.  Her first published fiction won the Boulevard Magazine Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers.

Director of Photography Tomasz Magierski 

Tomasz shot the award winning feature-length documentary Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business, and has filmed numerous projects for Channel 4, Discovery, TNT, ESPN, PBS, BBC, ITV UK, France 2, and HBO. Tomasz has directed a number of documentary films, most notably THE MAGIC BROTHERS (ZDF), a feature-length documentary on life under Communism, seen through the eyes of four brothers born in Poland in 1954. His most recent film, Blinky and Mehas won numerous awards at international film festivals. Tomasz was educated at the Film Academy of Lodz, Poland, majoring in cinematography. He speaks fluent German, Russian, and Polish.

For the past five years, we've been making this film on our own dime.  Now that we've nearly finished filming and are entering post-production, the costs will start to add up. In order to finish the film and make it ready for a premiere in early 2015, we need to pay for the following:

  • Music composition and recording
  • Animation
  • Archival video and photography licensing
  • Sound mixing and color correction
  • Final shoots, marketing, PR, insurance, film festival entrance fees, and legal fees

All of our potential collaborators believe in our story and are graciously giving us their "independent production" rate. One partner we're very excited about is Ace & Son Moving Picture Company. Located here in New York City, Ace & Son is excited to collaborate on the animation for the film. As this is a film about landscape architecture and design, we want to be able to animate and bring to life the designs, and also to use "line animations" to draw diagrams of the WTC Memorial and the plaza "rooftop garden." Here are a few examples of Ace & Son's beautiful and thoughtful work.

Meeting our $50,000 goal would be AMAZING and would provide us with the support we need to bring this wonderful story to life.

There is always more that we can do to make The Trees the best film it can be. We do have stretch goals, and our wildest dream is that we can push beyond that $50,000 mark. Everyone who has worked on the film thus far has done so on a deferred payment scale, and it would be great to pay them their full due! We'd love to bring in a top-notch editor to work on the film. We'd love to bring in an archival photo and video researcher. When we get into our first festival there will be further marketing, PR, and promotional costs. With more funds, we would be able to spend more time on the animation, music composition, and audio post-production. All of these additional efforts will add up to a better film.

We can't wait to dive into post-production on The Trees, finish the film, and bring it to audiences. Your generous donation to this Kickstarter campaign will make that happen. THANK YOU!!

Here's the t-shirt design!!

Here's the amazing print of Peter Walker's original design for the Memorial plaza, which will be shipped to you framed!

Risks and challenges

There are countless risks involved in producing a documentary, but we've been working on this film for over five years, so it is going to be finished. As film producers we have a proven track record finishing projects.

As an independent production, we have not secured any outside financing nor do we have a distribution or exhibition deal in place. So a very large risk and challenge is that the film does not secure distribution. However, we believe that full funding of this Kickstarter campaign will greatly aid in our chances of first getting into a top-tier film festival and then securing a distribution deal.

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    THANKS! You will receive our most sincere thanks! We'll also send you exclusive updates about the film, including screenings in your area.

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    STICKER! Receive a thank you note on one of the film's postcards, along with a "The Trees" sticker.

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    IMAGES! Get a high-resolution download of the poster for the film along with a selection of images of the trees. Includes all of the above (delivery of film upon completion in early 2015).

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    CLOTHES! "The Trees" tee shirt! The shirt features a limited-edition-for-Kickstarter design incorporating images of the Swamp White Oak trees growing at the 9/11 Memorial. Quality shirt, in men's and women's sizes. Also, get your name under "Kickstarter Supporters" on website. Includes all of the above (delivery of film upon completion in early 2015).

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    SCREENING PARTY! Come watch the film with us at Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, NY. Q/A with the filmmakers following. This is a Kickstarter only "friends and family" screening and not the premiere. Screening will be on a Mon-Thursday, date will be in December and be announced by Nov 15th. (Note: Does not include food and beverage costs at the yummy and fun Nitehawk Cinema.) Includes all of the above rewards (delivery of film upon completion in early 2015).

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    MEMORIAL TOUR. Tour of 9/11 Memorial with film subject Ann Van Hine. You will have a semi-private tour with Ann, whose husband Bruce was a NYC firefighter and part time arboroist who died on 9/11. Ann's tours are emotional, informative and beautiful.

    Note: Tours are limited to 10-15 people and we will schedule three date options, making every effort to accommodate everyone. Does not include the 9/11 museum admission fee.

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    PARTICIPATE IN ROUGH CUT! We'd love to hear from you. One of our favorite parts of filmmaking is getting a bunch of people together (at Scott's house if you're in New York; online if you're not) and watching the film. You'll get your name in the "Special Thanks" section of the credits in the film. Includes all of the above (except the Memorial tour).

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    DESIGN PRINT!! Framed signed print of Landscape Architect Peter Walker's very first drawing of the 9/11 Memorial plaza design. A unique piece of history and remarkably close to the realized design. Includes all of the above rewards (except the Memorial tour. Delivery of film upon completion in early 2015).

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    SCREENING IN YOUR TOWN! Director Scott Elliott will come to your town and screen the film and do a Q/A session. (Note: Does not include travel or venue rental). Includes all of the above except Associate producer credit (delivery of film upon completion in early 2015).

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Funding period

- (33 days)