Answering the Call: Ground Zero's Volunteers (2005) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Answering the Call depicts the surreal sites and sounds of the now sacred ground that was once the World Trade Center complex - a site now known throughout the world as Ground Zero. Ground Zero's volunteers - volunteer firefighters, church and relief organization volunteers, private citizens - describe their experiences responding to the call for help, how self-made leaders that were born and the inspiring teamwork of thousands of strangers who became brothers and sisters. Instead of despair, the film encourages viewers to pay tribute to the victims and rescuers and volunteers of Ground Zero by engaging in volunteer service.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Lou Angeli was putting on the coffee when he saw on television the horrific sight of the World Trade Center attack. Moments later he received instructions to head for New York in a dual role; as a first responder firefighter and also as a producer of disaster training films. For the next 16 nights and days thereafter, he shot footage at the "Ground Zero" site. As both a firefighter and a cameraman, he faced a dilemma; should his role as a firefighter take precedence over his responsibilities to document historic tragedy. As the only sanctioned videographer within the yellow tape perimeter Lou Angeli would have to do both.

    As a veteran volunteer firefighter as well as a filmmaker, I wanted to share my experience of what it was really like at Ground Zero from the perspective of the rescue and recovery workers. Yet I wanted the public to see not only the physical and emotional exhaustion experienced by these brave men and women, but the way they worked together with such an amazing level cooperation and compassion. Those we have interviewed for this documentary have shared my view that the way ground zero volunteers came together was unprecedented in the history of our nation. Many of the rescue and recovery workers contributed to the effort at Ground Zero for over 24-hours straight in those early days, and many returned for weeks and months on their days off.

    Firefighters, urban search and rescue workers, welders, iron-workers, crane operators, construction professionals, rescue dogs and their handlers went well beyond the boundaries of their job, putting in hundreds of hours as volunteers, to try to find survivors and later to do what was needed when rescue became recovery. Their tireless efforts could not save the victims of that tragic day, but their care and commitment allowed hundreds of families to find closure. Angeli also noticed during his Ground Zero experience the enormous contribution made by thousands of volunteers who supported the rescue and relief workers. They also worked tirelessly to provide water, food, supplies and human connection to the rescue and recovery workers, and were among Ground Zeros unsung heroes.

    Angeli had been reluctant to make this footage public until recently mainly due to the sensitive nature of this horrific event and the deep wounds it had inflicted in the hearts of Americans. But in 2004, other film professionals talked to him about how this footage could be woven into a worthy story. One that pays tribute to the fallen, remembers the heroes, and summons up lessons to be learned. The timing was right and Chesca Media Group, led by Executive Producer Patricia Olesky, made this possible by agreeing to produce the project. Lou Angeli, a 20-year veteran volunteer firefighter and filmmaker, and Bunny Dubin, a humanitarian and long-time volunteer, are the creative forces behind Answering the Call. Both served as volunteers at Ground Zero. Lou worked hand-in-hand with the rescue and recovery workers at Ground Zero, while Bunny coordinated hundreds of volunteers to support their efforts. Angeli and Dubin never actually met at Ground Zero, but learned of each other in 2004 and determined that together they could best tell the parallel stories of both rescue and support volunteers.

    Answering the Call: Ground Zeros Volunteers begins by taking the viewer back to the attacks on and the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11/01. With that first 24 hours as a backdrop, Answering the Call then weaves the stories of rescue and support volunteers at Ground Zero as it develops its own identity and energy. What happened there illustrates the power of the human spirit in the midst of an unimaginable tragedy. We were all a brother and a sister at Ground Zero", one subject recalls. Angeli and Dubin sought to represent a diverse cross-section of individuals and through their connections at Ground Zero, as well as research of rescue/recovery/relief organizations, they were able to obtain volunteers that reflect both the rescue and support sides of the story. These interviews uncovered new facets of the story as well as additional types of volunteers so essential to the mission. For some who were interviewed, it was the first time they actually reflected on their experience; having become like family with those that they never saw again away from the perimeter.

    Answering the Call addresses, mainly on a personal level, some of the lessons learned from the Ground Zero experience. The film concludes with a montage of inspirational words and images that honor the victims and volunteers of 9/11/01 and likewise encourages viewers to serve as volunteers.

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