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A Moving Picture

NYC Kids Make a Film to Record and Share 9/11 Experiences

The assignment was to write, direct, and film a short movie. Sumra Mian and her middle-school classmates from Queens, New York, chose the historical events of the 1950s as their topic. That was before the historical events of September 11, 2001, became more important.

 "This was a moment in history that we were experiencing," says Sumra, who directed the special eighth grade film at her school last year. "We knew right away we had to make a film about the events happening around us."

"In the beginning, everybody was shaken up," says social studies teacher Karl Heidenreich, who led the project. "You wake up one morning and you're plunged into history. You're not just studying it, you're living it."

Over the next several months, a dozen students from the Elizabeth Blackwell Middle School 210 in Queens gave up their lunch periods, weekends, after-school time, and holidays to produce the movie Empty Spaces.

Their script follows a group of New York City classmates on a journey to Ground Zero. At different times, the characters feel sad, nervous, scared, excited, and worried about the trip they're making. "We took our own feelings and made it into something we could be proud of and we could share with others," says 14-year-old Kelly Maby, who had a lead role in the film.

The film also looks at prejudice toward people of Middle Eastern descent. One main message of the film, says 14-year-old E.J. Shapiro, is that "people shouldn't be blamed for things [others did] just because of their ethnicity." In the film, E.J. plays a character who makes this mistake and upsets several friends.

During the project, the group interviewed several classmates on camera about their September 11 experiences.

"We learned how people all over the school and all over the city felt, and how it still hurt," Kelly says. "Even if they didn't suffer a loss, they were still affected. It still hit home."

Empty Spaces ends with a shot of the changed Manhattan skyline. "The film showed you the skyline and how things were affected, but how we could overcome it," says E.J. "It was good to end the movie like that."

Empty Spaces was shown to the public during a memorial service at Middle School 210 in June. At the service, the school also planted twin trees in front of the school to honor the fallen twin towers.

Sumra says she looks forward to sharing Empty Spaces with more viewers in the future. "I'm hoping they'll feel touched and understand what we're saying in the film — that in times like this, you're never alone."

Do you think these kids are heroes? To nominate a hero into our Hall of Heroes, click here.

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