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The Rising

by Danny Forster on Apr 29, 2010

"Nothing′s happening" That′s what people were thinking two years ago about the project to rebuild at Ground Zero—although architects had drawn up plans and construction crews had broken ground. "One of the most ambitious and important building projects ever attempted in this country is happening now, and no one knows about it." That′s what I was thinking.

So I started talking with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Governor′s Office, the Mayor′s Office, and the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, and the World Trade Center developers about getting the process recorded, and, ultimately, getting the story told. We′re calling it The Rising.

The parties involved hesitated at first, not because they didn′t see the importance of what they were doing—they did—but because they were frustrated by the long process and the bad press. I had to convince them that I wanted to tell a story not about what had gone wrong so far but about the incredible complexity of what they were trying to do.

Of course this project took some time to get started. The emotional stakes are as high as the World Trade Center towers themselves. The list of constituents the project must satisfy is almost comically irreconcilable, from victim′s groups to real estate developers.

And then there are the tremendous architectural and engineering issues . . . Did you know that when Ground Zero is rebuilt, it will be a transit hub that rivals Grand Central Station? That the new, post-9/11 skyscrapers will house a thriving business district, displacing the city of Chicago as the second largest in the world? And yet the tragedy of 9/11 won′t be forgotten: the memorials, built in the footprints of the former towers, will be two of the world′s largest water features; and the 9/11 museum, in addition to documenting the attack and its aftermath, will house a working DNA lab for identifying victim remains.

Nowhere else on the planet is a memorial of this stature so closely intertwined with the bustle of urban life—space to mourn and reflect alongside a place to close a deal over lunch.

How they′re achieving this is a fascinating story. And finally—finally—I got permission to tell it. Not just permission, but unprecedented access. The Rising will take us to Lower Manhattan to watch the work proceed, as well as around the world, to find out how other memorials are done. We′ll visit with world-famous architects, with family members of the victims, with the curator of the museum-to-be. We′ll see how they′re wedging this massive development into the crazy-tight grid of the city, and, in just as delicate an operation, how they are choosing to arrange the victims′ names at the memorial.

The Rising will explore all this and much, much more, over the course of a six-part miniseries that will air in 2011 on the Discovery Channel. Production will be in the capable hands of KPI TV, a company—located just steps from Ground Zero—that specializes in spectacular long-form television documentaries.

To direct the series, I was lucky to enlist eight-time Emmy-award-winning documentary filmmaker named Jonathan Hock. Hock is a native New Yorker, who has been making riveting fiction and nonfiction film and TV for over two decades. You should check out his most recent documentary portrait Lost Son of Havana. The man can tell a story.

Because the rebuilding of Ground Zero is such a complicated, multi-layered story, and because it′s such an important historical moment, we are deeply grateful also to have visionary director Steven Spielberg as Executive Producer. Spielberg is a history buff, known not just for his films but also for his archival work with the Shoah Foundation. In his films, he is justly renowned for his ability to marry historical context with emotional experience. What an event feels like and what it means, the heart and the head, are equally essential to his movies, and he manages to illuminate them both in a way that seems effortless.

The Rising will tell the story of the rebuilding of Ground Zero from an engineering and architectural perspective—from the head, in other words—but we cannot, and will not ignore the heart. We will talk throughout the series with New Yorkers intimately connected both with the events of 9/11 and with the rebuilding at hand. A no-nonsense worker from the Port Authority who has a story of a lost friend for every location on the site; a construction worker who cleared rubble in the aftermath of the attacks and is now building the new tower; a manager at the Port Authority, who ran the old World Trade Center site and lost 16 people on 9/11; a New York Times writer who has covered the story since 9/12/01. These are just a few of the people we hope to follow as our emotional guides through this tremendous project.

It′s not going to be done by 9/11/11, as originally planned, though some portion of the site will be. But when it is done, in all its complexity and ambition, it will be a testament to the resilience of the City of New York, as well as to cooperation, to ingenuity, and to the human spirit. And at every step along the journey, The Rising will be there, from the mundane Monday morning when a welder starts his work to the momentous Sunday, ten years after the attacks, when President Obama unveils the memorial.

We hope that you′ll be there too. In the meantime, check back here for more news about the series as it develops. I′ll try to keep you up to date about the people I meet and the things I learn as we film. It should be an amazing and emotional year and a half.