September 11, 2001

New HBO Documentary Aims to Explain September 11th Attacks to Kids Who Weren’t Yet Born

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the 2001 September 11th attacks. On this day 18 years ago, nearly 3,000 innocent people were murdered and more than 6,000 others were injured when terrorists hijacked several planes and crashed them in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.

America has never really been the same since that day. We have healed, yes, and we have managed to pick up the pieces and carry on, but the wounds remain fresh. And the September 11th attacks continue to permeate our world to this day: the ongoing sense of loss and fear, increased surveillance, and even just the way airport security works. (Remember when you could walk a loved one to the gate to say goodbye? Not since September 11, 2001.)

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The impact of those attacks cannot be understated, and that is why HBO is releasing a new documentary that aims to explain the attacks to young children for whom the attacks are nothing but history.

The 30-minute documentary, titled “What Happened on September 11,” premieres tonight at 6 p.m. on HBO. It was directed by filmmaker Amy Schatz, who says the idea came to her when a third-grade girl told her she and a friend had to Google “Sept. 11 attacks.”

September 11
CREDIT: Shutterstock

“When a child does that,” Schatz tells USA Today, “what he or she finds are some pretty horrific images that are not necessarily appropriate for kids. So I felt a responsibility to try to fill that void and try to give kids something that isn’t horrifying and kind of fills in the gap.”

September 11
CREDIT: Shutterstock

The half-hour film debuts Wednesday at 6 p.m. A companion piece, focusing on the memories of former students at a high school near Ground Zero, premieres three hours later.

“One of the biggest questions the kids have is ’why?'” Schatz says. “‘Why would somebody do that? Why would there be such cruelty?’ That’s a very difficult thing to grapple with and answer so that was the trickiest part of the project.”

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Schatz worked with the September 11th Memorial Museum in New York City. She includes some footage of the attacks in her film, but says not too many, as she doesn’t want the horrific images to linger in the minds of the young children.

“What Happened on September 11” will be made available for free to all schools throughout the country. Schatz says the film is generally aimed at children ages 7 to 12.

CREDIT: Shutterstock

“You can’t protect kids from what they’re going to come across,” Schatz said. “It seemed to me there was an opportunity to put something out there that is age-appropriate and not too scary and give them the tools they need to understand the world around them.”

Remembering the Victims and Heroes of September 11, 2011

Every year, thousands of Americans make great effort to honor the victims and heroes of the September 11 attacks. Watch the video below to see what a group of more than 1,000 volunteers in Atlanta are doing to honor the fallen.

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