Firefighter documentary 'Brotherhood' makes Tribeca premiere

By CHRISTY LEMIRE
AP Entertainment Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - Lilibet Foster didn't want to create yet another
documentary about Sept. 11. She wanted to make a film about how New
York City firefighters have carried on their traditions and
fraternity after losing so many friends and colleagues that day.
The result is "Brotherhood," which made its world premiere
Monday night at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Having "Brotherhood" debut at Tribeca is "a perfect fit,"
said Foster, the director and co-producer, since the festival was
created in 2002 to help revitalize downtown Manhattan after the
terrorist attacks.
"What other festival would make as much sense? We also really
wanted to celebrate the firemen and the fire department, and we
wanted to do it someplace they could all come," she said.
Dozens of "New York's Bravest," as they're known, showed up on
a windy, rainy night for the premiere, many in their blue dress
uniforms. They walked the red carpet alongside action star Vin
Diesel and Robert De Niro, co-founder of the festival in the
neighborhood where he lives and works.
"We're not only honored but feel morally obligated to show this
film in the neighborhood where so many made the ultimate
sacrifice," De Niro told the audience before the film began.
Foster, who's from the Virgin Islands but has lived in the
United States for the past 13 years, said she hadn't really thought
about firefighters before Sept. 11, when she lost a close friend in
one of the World Trade Center towers.
Now, any money she makes from the documentary - which is still
looking for a distributor - will go back to fire department
charities.
Foster, who was nominated for an Oscar for producing the 1999
documentary "Speaking in Strings," said she wanted to spend time
at firehouses in more than one borough, and she wanted to make sure
one of them was in Manhattan. What she found was a similar
structure in each house she visited: There was the funny guy, the
senior guy, the new guy.
"I went to every single borough," she said. "Normally, I'd
walk in faced with 12 guys and - especially if it was an engine and
ladder company - they'd all look at me and say, 'What is it you
want to do?' ... I was looking for the best place to really be able
to capture brotherhood."
But she also had to win them over - and some firefighters
figured she was just one more director making a documentary about
Sept. 11, especially since she was doing legwork around the
one-year anniversary of the attacks.
When she'd tell them she was more interested in depicting the
sense of fraternity that binds firefighters, "there would be a
huge sigh of relief. They were immediately much more open to the
idea."
"I was asking a lot - 'I want to live in your house with a
camera for a long time.' Then they had to decide if they could
trust me."
She knew she wanted to focus attention on Rescue Company 1 in
Manhattan, where Paul Hashagan, a decorated veteran, was retiring
after 25 years.
Then she walked into the busy Squad 252 in Bushwick, a poor
section of Brooklyn, and "I fell in love with that house." Plus,
Squad 252 had a hazardous materials team, so she thought shooting
footage of such emergencies would be timely.
"For me, it's the little stories that tell the big story," she
said. "If something had to do with Code Orange, or this buzzword
'weapons of mass destruction,' whatever I captured in the house
would be a reflection of all our lives."
The third house was Rescue Company 4 in Queens, where several
eager, middle-rank firefighters were left after the terrorist
attacks and retirements thinned their ranks.
"This job is a life-and-death job. Your life and your brothers'
lives depend upon it," the charismatic Capt. Ed Metcalf barks at a
group of recruits at the film's start.
"You're on the payroll - you ain't in the brotherhood. You
ain't in the brotherhood 'til the brothers in the firehouse say
you're in the brotherhood. And there's a big difference."
After spending so much time with these guys, Foster felt
completely comfortable with them - even in the scariest of blazes,
for which she'd rig a camera up to one of the firefighters to shoot
images through the smoke.
"You also start to forget that there might be danger," she
said. "You're running on adrenaline like they are."
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On the Net:
http://www.tribecafilmfestival.org

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)