Analysis of The Documentary "Footprint: Where The Towers Stood" by Sara Newens

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The film "Footprint: Where the Towers Stood" by Sara Newens

The film "Footprint: Where the Towers Stood" by Sara Newens is a short documentary submitted to The New York Times Op-Docs series. In this film, Newens covers activities at the site of the 9/11 terror attack in New York City. This attack occurred on September 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center which highlighted the landmark of the Twin Towers. This paper will focus on analyzing the documentary from The New York Times Op-Doc, "Footprint: Where the Towers Stood" by Sara Newens to reveal the reader the aftermath of America's most tragic event, the 9/11.

The design and presentation

The general impression of the design and presentation of the audio and visuals of this film is that it was very carefully produced to come across as solemn and melancholic. This is befitting given the nature of the tragic event that is being covered in the film. It begins with an introductory text giving a brief history of 9/11; the film begins with eye-level shots of visitors at the 9/11 memorial site. The creator uses primary footage of visitors taking photos, a cleaner wiping the memorial stone and everyone is in sort of a memorial trance or sober mood. Those actions have been selected to portray the value of the 9/11 to the history of America. They are a critical part of the history that is highly valued. In addition, the background audio track is very mellow instrumental music with traffic sounds that portrays sounds of New York City. This audio helps in communicating the setting and overall tone of the film. There are random changes between the primary footage to show other activities going on in the city as well the use of low camera angles to catch the New York skyline. Dollying camera movement must have been used in this film since there are alternating close-up shots and long-range shots in which the general area surrounding the memorial site is scanned. Circular elements are occasionally used in the framing where the focus is put on the visitor's faces and the background blurred to communicate the emotions and sad expressions on the visitors' faces. All these elements of the documentary are carefully edited to complement each other. The background music is initially used as the audience is introduced to the general setting of the film, before any narrations begin. The narrations are primarily in the form of a dialogue between guides and the visitors, as well as the visitors themselves and parents explaining to their children how the horrific attack was carried out.

Use of text track

Newens uses text track randomly in this film for lighting and visuals for various reasons. First, he uses it to introduce the film title and its director, then for English subtitles throughout the film since the narrations are in different language, and lastly for acknowledgments at the end of the film. This additional use of text helps the audience to focus on the movements in the film while being able to read and understand what is being narrated. The shots are well lit since it takes place during the day, giving the visuals a very clear quality. Some of the visuals are very carefully selected, such as a 30-second long focus on the absences that the waterfalls at the memorial cascade into. This absence is symbolic of the deaths that occurred during 9/11.

Sara Newens, the creator

Sara Newens, the creator of this video, has over a decade's experience in film and television. Newens has had past experience with the grounds being filmed, which remind her of the first time she visited the place after the terrorist attack. Using her experience helps her draw the important scenes in the film and convey her emotions, even without saying a single thing. The beginning of the film focuses on what Newens wants people to see, that the area that was so full of sadness and the somber mood is now a tourist site and people just take pictures. The aerial view of the ground captures the exact place and perimeter where the towers stood. The focused workers in the scene and how carefully they carry out their duties may be aimed to remind the viewer just how significant and sacred the memorial is. She captures a teary-eyed older woman just next to a cheery young couple. This contrast symbolizes what the memorial means to the older generation and to the younger generation. The impact of that day is still planted in the older people's hearts because they have a remembrance of exactly what happened and the magnitude of loss that was felt. To the young ones, for example, the small child, it is history passed to them since most of them were not born or were too young to understand the horrible news. Nevertheless, the site of the accident remains a symbol of extreme importance both for memorial purposes and as a visitation site.

The audience

The audience for this film is all people who intend to learn about the 9/11 attack and its impact, those who lost their loved ones, and those who could be planning a visit to the memorial site. These categories of the audience are likely to find the film very informational and possibly comforting, as the film is very observational and features all kinds of people who share in the grief. It is not all sad as people are seen smiling at the camera and talking, reminiscing about the attack. Depictions of the grounds where the towers stood were made into a beautiful pool surrounded by trees that serves as the deceased's memorial, and a symbol of hope despite the tragedy. Families of the victims come to this area to remember their loved ones. The film shows how the government and the United States citizens transformed something that was awful and sad to a beautiful place where families of the victims can meet. One of the narrators explains what the pool means and why the names of the victims are placed together in the way they are.

Use of rhetorical appeals

There is easily seen in the use of pathos rhetorical appeal in the film to appeal to the viewers' emotions. The film uses different elements to capture the sad emotions surrounding the 9/11 attack and the sensitivity of the attack. A good example is a woman with the camera tearing up while switching her gaze from up to around, probably remembering the towers. Instructions given to the tourist forbidding them from placing items on the names inscribed on the memorial stone, together with the tone used by one of the visitors to explain to a little girl how the attack was orchestrated are meant to show the horror of the attack. The male guide says the void represents the hole that was left in the hearts of American over the loss of life. One of the narrators uses the emotional concept of meaningful surroundings, where the names of the victims inscribed on the memorial stone are grouped in a way that the names of people who died but used to work together are written together to show the people are together in death just as they were in life. The personal stories used in the film such as that of the boy whose father was an employee at the World Trade Center is a logos appeal.


In conclusion, "Footprint: Where the Towers Stood" is a very well-produced film that most definitely communicates to the audience the aftermath of America's most tragic event on September 1, 2001. The creator was very persuasive in her use of visuals, audio, and text track, editing, and rhetorical appeals to present a short but very heartbreaking film that impacted the audience positively.

Work Cited

Newens, Sara. “Op-Docs: Where the Towers Stood.” The New York Times Op-Docs Season 6, 2018. Accessed 19 Sep. 2018,

August 21, 2023


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9/11 Artwork

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