Film reveals disputes behind 9/11 museum construction

NEW YORK – A new film reveals and renews the tensions that presided over the creation of the 9/11 Museum beneath the commemorative waterfalls and reflecting pool at the World Trade Center.

Disgruntled museum officials have objected and demanded changes to “The Outsider,” a documentary released this week that reveals conflicting visions behind the New York landmark, which opened in 2014.

The film went public on Thursday through an unusual venue – Facebook, which streams it to users for $ 3.99. Thereafter, it will be available in select theaters and on other streaming services until the 20th anniversary of the attack.

The “outsider” is Michael Shulan, the museum’s former creative director, who often disagreed with current CEO Alice Greenwald and her allies. The two worked for several years on its development and grew to have fundamental differences in how the story should be presented.

In essence, Shulan felt the museum should be more welcoming and better address what led to the attack and its aftermath – the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the restrictions on personal freedom in the United States Some critics believe that the installation is now hard to bear with a focus on the horrors of the day.

“Michael wanted to spark questions,” narrator Bob Garfield says in the film. “Alice wanted to provide answers.”

Husband and wife filmmakers Steven Rosenbaum and Pamela Yoder have their own story documenting September 11, 2001. Their company was filming a show for Animal Planet in Manhattan that day, but rotated after the impact of the planes. Rosenbaum asked his crews to film what was happening on the street. This material and other crowdsourced videos were used for the 2002 film, “7 Days in September”.

In 2008, they granted the museum the right to use whatever it wanted from the 500 hours of video collected that week. In return, they were offered behind-the-scenes access to the museum’s work with the idea that it could make an interesting film in itself.

“It was supposed to be an observational documentary,” Rosenbaum said. “For the first two years, the museum was what we were told it was going to be.”

Shulan, who is not in the museum and curatorial world, was recruited for his work after opening a photo gallery of the 9/11 work. He was a stranger. He became frustrated with these museum professionals and, clearly, with them with him.


Tribute of Light’s blue beams pierce the air near the 9/11 National Museum and Memorial. Museum officials have objected and demanded changes to “The Outsider,” a documentary released this week that reveals the disputes that went into the development of the 9/11 memorial and museum.
– Associated Press, 2016

The filmmakers took his side in the dispute and said they didn’t like what the museum has become.

“It’s nationalistic, belligerent and based on grievances,” Rosenbaum said. “If you went there you would end up feeling sad and angry, and what is a museum supposed to do?” “

Shulan declined to comment on the film except to say he was unaware of the focus on it until it was completed. He left the museum after it opened, as he had always wanted.

Museum spokeswoman Lee Cochran said “The Outsider” views the installation through a specific ideological lens that “we don’t share.”

“At a time when so many institutions in the United States are subject to ideological and partisan divisions, the Memorial and the museum must remain a sacred place that seeks to educate and unify,” Cochran said. “We have made it clear to the filmmakers that we are disappointed with many of their decisions, which we believe to be disrespectful to the victims and their families.”

A focus on how 9/11 changed America would render the museum obsolete upon opening, the museum argued.

Museum officials were allowed to see the film again, primarily for security reasons, and screened it in May. A few weeks later, his lawyer addressed a long list of objections to the filmmakers.

Most have been ignored, and some seem trivial. Officials claimed, for example, that a scene showing an exchange of potential items for sale in the museum’s gift shop was libelous. They said the offhand comment from a staff member that “fruit is so much healthier than donuts” would hurt that person’s reputation.

They also objected to filmmakers showing museum officials examining a heart-wrenching audio tape of a woman at the World Trade Center talking to an emergency operator as she realizes she is on the verge of death, and a video that shows victims jumping or falling to death.

Since both have been screened out for possible exhibition, the museum said these scenes would be unnecessarily difficult to view. The filmmakers said they wanted to illustrate the kind of tough decisions the creative director and curators face.

Also, editorial choices are their prerogative, not that of the museum, they said.

After making their objections known, the museum said it was not pursuing them any further, or attempting to stop the film’s distribution.



Flowers bear the inscribed names of those who died at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum on September 11, 2020 in New York City.

Flowers bear the inscribed names of those who died at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum on September 11, 2020 in New York City.
– Associated Press, 2020

Separately from the film, Rosenbaum and Yoder said they were concerned that the museum is placing restrictions on how researchers use the video they donated. The museum has said it has the right to examine the depiction of the images for accuracy, but is not aware of any researcher who has yet requested to see them.

This raises the question of whether a grudge against museum officials may have affected their choices in making “The Outsider”. Rosenbaum said the movie was over before they learned of the potential access issue.

The timing of the film is difficult for the museum, which has seen attendance plummet due to the pandemic and cut jobs and opening days.

Going to Facebook to distribute the film first is a new approach and kind of a test, as it is believed to be the first time it has been tried. The filmmakers said they didn’t know Facebook was promoting “The Outsider.”

“It could be millions of spectators or 35,” Rosenbaum said. “It’s impossible to know and it’s heartbreaking.”

The film will be in select theaters Friday, then on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.

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