As Hollywood readies to launch a year of 9/11 exploitation pics (from Oliver Stone's still-untitled project to Paul Greengrass's Flight 93), it's refreshing to come across a humble portrait of the event's consequences that eschews sentimentality. But Peter Josyph's amateurish chronicle of the residents and workers who survived the attacks along Liberty Street, which limns the southern border of the World Trade Center, could benefit from a little studio interference: The documentary is at least twice as long as it should be, and its characters are sorely underdeveloped.
The film begins as a poetic meditation on the aesthetics of destruction. Gnarled metal resembles Abstract- Expressionist sculpture. Cranes crash into molten rubble. Heaps of gray dust conceal the dead. Just when you think this experimental montage will go on forever, Josyph shifts to his primary subjects: a couple of residents of 114 Liberty Street, a paramedic, a carpenter, and a volunteer worker and his father.
Some of their stories are compelling: The paramedic, for instance, describes his discovery of a severed human hand, likening it to Michelangelo's image of Adam's fingers reaching out to God. Others require further context. Is the volunteer, who obsessively collects charred business cards and air-conditioner vents, a little off his rocker? As for the residents of the co-op, what do they do—and how did they afford those enormous Lower Manhattan lofts? While Liberty Street presents flashes of odd poignancy, this is the kind of personal documentary that's more fascinating to those involved with the film than to those watching it. (Opens Thu; Pioneer.) —Anthony Kaufman