Catharis Through Art

September 5, 2017

Often when we reflect upon the tragedy of 9/11 as a country, we are told of its course of events, the terrorism that drove them, and the immediate consequences.  However, this generic synopsis tends to exclude the families who were intimately affected.  Fortunately, we recently discovered a profound outlet for such stories, a powerful new film that illustrates the pain of afflicted families through descriptions of those lost in 9/11.  In an interview with Roz Sohnen, we got to know about her documentary An American Quilt: Stitching Together our 9/11 Memories.

            As you may have known, part of the 9/11 Memorial pertains to quilts made in honor of those lost in the tragedy.  These quilts serve to emulate their lives and characteristics perfectly, as they were created by family members and loved ones.  Sohnen chronicles this process in her film as she visits with seven of these families, in addition to the Chief Curator of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and a psychiatrist specializing in the grief healing process.   Filmed over the course of 14 years, the audience is able to get an accurate sense of how those most directly affected by a national tragedy can convalesce through bringing about remembrance.   

            But Sohnen filmed her interviews with the grieving families very soon after 9/11-as they were making their quilts, so that we can see their healing in action.  It’s powerful to witness the capacity of these families; lamented but still able to harness their love posthumously.  Each quilt panel is a vibrant, unique, and authentic depiction of a family member lost during the 9/11 attacks, made with the utmost care and creativity.  Upon completion, the 65 quilt panels were displayed in Central Park and in Washington, DC.

            Sohnen got the idea for this film when she saw a news story on the making of the quilt panels which she found very interesting.  Since she doesn’t sew, Sohnen thought she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to create a film about the people who try to overcome their grief and keep the memory of their loved one alive by creating a quilt panel.  “It was really quite profound,” Sohnen reflected.

            “The survivors I interviewed were finding their way through this grief by making the quilt panels which could be something others could learn from,” Sohnen explained.   She observed that making art and talking about the person they loved helped family members reconcile what they had gone through.

            The experience of speaking to people about their grief was one of the most challenging aspects of telling this story, Sohnen said.   In 2002, she started the interviewing process with the Klein family in Poughkeepsie, NY who had lost their son Peter.

            The panel made for Summit resident Ian Thompson who had previously survived the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was made by Summit residents Nancy Gorman and Anne Wise, and Patti Celestini of North Carolina.  Gorman is featured in the film and the panel remembers Ian, who had previously survived the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, as a generous community-member and father.   Ian’s wife Lucy Thompson agreed to speak on camera about her sudden and unexpected loss after 25 years of marriage. The couple’s two daughters shared their experiences and how recalling their father’s sense of humor and interests helped them overcome immense pain.           

           In addition to a number of film festival screenings, in January the 9/11 Museum in lower Manhattan hosted a screening of this powerful film for its guides. Giving as she is, Roz Sohnen teaches filmmaking in New York City in addition to her work as a filmmaker.


in lower Manhattan hosted a screening of this powerful film for its guides.

            Giving as she is, Roz Sohnen teaches filmmaking in New York City in addition to her work as a filmmaker. 

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