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Brook Peters insists he has not become an overnight celebrity and the most popular eighth grader at his school. That, however, is hard to believe.
In the past month the 14-year-old has been featured on nearly every cable news network, including NY1, PIX11, FOX, NBC, CBS and CNN. He has a full page spread in the current edition of New York Magazine and last Friday he was “Person of the Week” on ABC’s World News.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the media blitz, Peters has somehow managed to increase his math grade from a B average to an A, and study for his Regents Exams.
Peters premiered his fourth film, a documentary entitled “The Second Day,” at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The film opens with a voiceover from Peters and an image of his first day at kindergarten at P.S. 150.
“This was my first day of Kindergarten,” Peters says.
Then an image appears of the Twin Towers in flames on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
“This was my second day,” Peters says.
Peters has managed to use 38 minutes to tell a story that spans nearly ten years and countless nights of sleep interrupted by nightmares. The documentary explores how Lower Manhattan children have processed the trauma of the attacks and includes interviews of roughly 20 kids, teachers, principals and school counselors.
Over the last year Peters has been working frantically to edit the nearly 18 hours of footage and trim it down to 38 minutes. The pace increased significantly when he decided he wanted to submit it to the Tribeca Film Festival.
When word of the documentary’s premier spread, Peters began getting a lot of attention. But following Osama bin Laden’s death, the interest from media outlets, not just here in the States, but also from countries such as Finland, Germany, India and China, has increased dramatically.
Sen. Squadron honors Peters
Last Wednesday State Senator Daniel Squadron introduced a resolution on the Senate floor in Albany honoring Peters and his film. The resolution passed unanimously.
“This week, in which the whole world has turned its attention again to the attacks of September 11th, 2001… it’s appropriate to highlight what’s happening locally and what’s happening on the personal level,” Senator Squadron said on the Senate floor.
Squadron said the “success and sensitivity” evident in Peters’ film should be “commended and highlighted.”
“I want to take a moment on the floor of the State Senate to commend and thank Brook for reminding us all of the many different ways September 11th still affects us and the many different ways that we are all, as a community, continuing to rise above it,” stated Squadron.
On Friday Squadron met Peters and his mother at Zuccotti Park to deliver the proclamation in person. They were joined by firefighters from FDNY Engine Company 10 and FDNY Ladder Company 10. Peters’ mother Michelle has always been a FDNY volunteer since Brook was a little kid.
Peters’ film has an added element because it highlights the bond he has with the FDNY. Peters grew up in firehouses all over Lower Manhattan because his mother Michelle was an avid volunteer and a single mother. Hence, many of the firefighters served as father figures to Peters. On Sept. 11, Michelle was actually at FDNY Ladder Company 10. After the second tower was hit, she immediately ran to P.S. 150, picked up Brook and put him in a rig.
The film tells of the following moments when Michelle decided she had to get Brook to safety, out of Lower Manhattan and how she crossed Canal Street carrying Brook, providing the kindergartener with a viewpoint he would never forget.
“Since I was on her shoulder, the entire time we were walking I was looking directly at the towers,” said Peters.
Michelle put Brook down once they crossed Canal Street and broke into tears. In film Michelle recounts something Brook said to her at that moment.
“You just have to remember the good times you had with them,” Brook told his mom.
Funerals and memorials that Brook and his mother attended consumed the following months. All of them were for FDNY members.
A therapeutic endeavor
Peters came up with the idea for the documentary when he was 11 years old. Having already made a couple of films as part of the Downtown Youth Filmmakers program, he decided he wanted to make a documentary. It didn’t take long for Peters to decide on the subject matter. “It just occurred to me, that I should do it on something I know very well,” he said.
Brooks’ mother had been an actress and producer and she helped her son arrange interviews. They managed to get in touch with someone from every school that was open that day. Some were Brook’s friends, others were teachers, and some were kids he did not know, including two students from Stuyvesant who are now in college. Peters’ mom was surprised when she reached out to some schools and was stonewalled or ignored. Stuyvesant said they absolutely would not comment on the events of the day. But Michelle managed to get in touch with friends of the two college students who appear in the film, and set up an interview for last summer when they were home from college.
Peters said many of the kids had never even talked to their parents, much less been interviewed for a film, about what they remembered. He said his age probably helped with their ability to confide in him.
“They didn’t look at me like an authority figure,” said Peters.
He said he could tell during the interviews that some of them were indeed opening up for the first time.
“Some seemed more hardened on the exterior, at first” said Peters. “But then when they started recounting the events of the day, it was like a dam burst — not a rush, but a steady stream that started to flow more and more.”
Peters even acknowledged the power of the film to touch others who were not directly impacted by Sept. 11, 2001. One of his closest friends has a father who is a Vietnam vet and Peters recalled the father’s reaction when he showed him the film.
“When he watched the film, I could tell it was bringing a lot of stuff up,” said Peters.
Toward the end of the film a quote flashes across the screen that reads, “The resilience of the human spirit inspires hope for the future.”
Peters said resilience is what his film is truly about, regardless of the event. He said his greatest hope is that people will see the film, realize the struggle that kids like him endured and, most importantly, see that they were able to rise above it, move on and prosper.
Article BY John Bayles