faith and doubt at ground zero

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» TV Guide Matt Roush

"PBS's Frontline presents one of the first, yet almost certainly one of the most lasting of this month's commemorative specials with the two-hour 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.' ... With sensitivity and unflinching honesty, this remarkable report opens with harrowing accounts of grief, in which family survivors either embraced or rejected God in the wake of their personal tragedy.

"In chapters titled 'The Face of God,' 'The Face of Evil,' and 'The Face of Religion,' this somber documentary puts a human face on the spiritual and cultural debates that continue to rage. ...

"Much of Faith and Doubt eloquently argues that deeper spiritual connections were forged through the crisis. But anyone seeking a simplistic catharsis will not find it here."


» The Wall Street Journal Tunku Varadarajan

"Harrowing and uplifting in equal measure, this 'Frontline' documentary poses a question that all but the most atheistic of Americans have pondered at some point -- and in some form or other -- over the past year: What was God doing on Sept. 11? ...

"'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero' is an outstanding document, sensitive, careful and pellucidly intelligent. ..."


» The Washington Post Patricia Brennan

... "PBS's 'Frontline' presents an unusual documentary called 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero' by Helen Whitney. ...

"Ordinarily, two hours of people talking might not be particularly interesting television. But in this case, what they say is often touching, and in some cases profound.

"This program -- one of many 9/11-related shows this week and next -- may catch and hold viewer attention as few others do. Watching people try to make sense of what happened that day becomes a look into the human condition. A transcript is available -- and many viewers may want one." ...


» The New York Times Caryn James

... "The anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is more than a week away, but the harsh truth is that many viewers are already feeling overwhelmed and resistant, wondering, How much more do we need to see?

"There are some surprising answers in the first wave of anniversary documentaries. ... They include one extraordinary work on 'Frontline' called 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.' It is an elegantly made, unsentimental look at the widely varied ways in which the terror attacks affected religious beliefs, an important issue no other program has dealt with so thoroughly or thoughtfully. ...

"The opening segment, with images of people tumbling to their deaths, is graphic enough to make some viewers turn the program off, but that would be a mistake; it quickly becomes less horrifyingly familiar and more philosophical. It raises the unanswerable question -- what is the nature of evil? -- and approaches it with tough-mindedness, clarity, and respect for every response. The answers come from clergymen and artists, from survivors of the attacks and families of its victims, shown against simple but visually graceful backdrops of churches and offices. ...

"There is one conspicuous lapse here. The program includes a clip of President Bush on Sept. 11 saying that 'today our nation saw evil' and referring to 'the evildoers,' but it doesn't begin to explore the political implications of his persistent use of those words. (That may seem to be outside the realm of a documentary about faith, but the program did drag the president in. And the issue is not really beside the point if you consider that this administration has established the 'White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives' linking religious groups to social services.)" ...


» New York Daily News David Bianculli

"I don't know how many of this month's Sept. 11-related programs will be of value to viewers, but this PBS documentary is certainly one of them. It has some very rough images of jumpers from the twin towers and of Holocaust victims, but people talk honestly about their faith and emotions. One particularly poignant moment comes when farewell cell-phone conversations of those who died in the towers are turned into prayer chants. Many viewers may end up examining their own beliefs."


» Newsday Diane Werts

... "Many programs this month will recount what happened a year ago, when and how, often purporting to examine why. 'Frontline' looks instead within the hearts and minds of a variety of Americans so affected by the World Trade Center disaster that were jolted, quite literally, down to our souls. ...

"'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero' spends two hours tonight joining that inner conversation, not as a 'Frontline' news report but as another individual voice -- one distinct enough to speak plainly, elucidate familiar questions, raise new perspectives, and provoke private contemplation. You've heard talk of interactive television? Forget those technical bells and whistles. This is interactive TV, at its most elementally intimate.

"Victims, widows, bereaved parents, witnesses, priests, rabbis and Islamic scholars pour out their spiritual sorrows, fears and anger to producer Helen Whitney, with raw sincerity. ...

"Two hours may seem a long time to involve yourself in such visceral viewing (and indeed it can start feeling draggy three-quarters of the way through). But that duration also provides each person interviewed with an unhurried chance to say his or her piece. ...

"These are no sound bites. They're living, breathing, evolving perspectives whose humanity weaves its way into the spiritual fabric inside ourselves. 'Faith and Doubt' presents one personal confession after another that begs to be measured against your own. ...

"With compassion (and subtle artistry in music and visual images), Whitney tries to open our eyes to the personal, palpable impact of the religious convictions that direct so many lives in such meaningful yet starkly different ways." ...


» Boston Herald Marisa Guthrie

... "Television will commemorate the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11 with wall-to-wall coverage. Amid the inevitable video footage of planes flying into buildings and soot-covered New Yorkers fleeting, PBS's 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero' stands out for its spiritual overtones. ...

"Whether you believe in a higher power, 'Faith and Doubt' will speak to you. The documentary is as disturbing as anything else is sure to be.

"It contains gut-wrenching video of people at the windows of the World Trade Center, futilely waiting for help. There are numerous photos of bodies tumbling through the air. But there are also beautiful pictures of victims comforting one another and much time-lapse video of the sun rising and setting over New York, reminding us that time is constant and can be a comfort, too. ...

"Central to the documentary is the role religion played in the attacks. The eloquent discussion of the theological underpinnings of war and destruction is what makes 'Faith and Doubt' so compelling. ...

"'Faith and Doubt' is an elegiac tableau of death and hope. Ultimately, it comes as a relief amid the onslaught of commemorative programs because it intelligently focuses the discussion of Sept. 11 on the role of the metaphysical in societies and the historical precedence for violence, and does not rely on political hyperbole.

"If we are to understand what happened Sept. 11, we must examine the power of religion to motivate us to hate. The words of these survivors, artists and scholars make us stop and consider our connection to one another -- something the hijackers aboard those planes could not do."


» St. Petersburg Times Eric Deggans

... "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero is among the first and best documentaries to herald the coming deluge of commemorative reports about last year's terrorist attacks.

"Like so many other programs in the next week or so, Faith and Doubt features interviews with survivors of those killed in the World Trade Center disaster and plenty of video footage: the gleaming, preattack twin towers, bystanders running for their lives from the crumbling buildings, clips of those killed, in happier moments of life.

"But this documentary takes a step further, considering the impact of such carnage on the religious faith of survivors, emergency workers, artists and average citizens. ...

"One drawback: Though the documentary quotes a survivor of the Holocaust on the nature of evil, little other effort is made to place the World Trade Center attacks in perspective with other atrocities, such as massacres in Bosnia, mass killings in Somalia, the Oklahoma City bombing or suicide bombings in the Middle East. History is replete with instances of people killing masses of innocents. This documentary's failure to connect the current tragedy with previous ones feeds a focus on American suffering that weakens the material." ...


» The Oakland (Calif.) Tribune Susan Young

"One of the first major broadcasts to deal with the tragedy is tonight's 'Frontline' documentary, which sets up an interesting premise: Where was God on Sept. 11?

"There's more than a little bit of hubris in this statement. We could just as easily ask where was God when innocents anywhere in the world are killed in the name of God and governments.

"But to happen to us? Unbelievable, these people in the documentary say."


» The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)  Tom Walter

"Some questions are just too big for TV. Where was God last Sept. 11 is one of them.

"Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero is admirable. Give it credit at least for asking the big questions. That it can't manage to create a coherent picture probably is not the fault of the program but a legacy of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Some questions cannot be answered, certainly not in two hours. ...

"It's been said the opposite of faith isn't doubt but certainty. In this program, on these issues, faith and doubt are intertwined, and it leaves open all the questions it raises -- as it must."


» The Orange County Register Miki Turner

"Where was God on Sept. 11, 2001?

"Where was he when madmen, in the name of religion, killed Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, agnostics and atheists at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and that grassy field in Pennsylvania.

"Where was he when their victims' surviving mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, children and friends had to deal with devastation, despair and destruction?

"Was the loss of thousands of lives indeed God's will or was this just another instance in which evil triumphed over good?

"While the answers to these questions depend largely upon your religious convictions, 'Frontline's' sobering documentary, 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero,' does a fine job of soliciting myriad responses from theologians, clergy, educators, authors, survivors of victims -- even an opera singer. Some of these folks have lost faith in someone or something they cannot see. ...

"This two-hour documentary, produced and written by Helen Whitney, studiously does not try to provide definitive answers to a question many likely asked themselves on that horrid day.

"And that's a good thing.

"Why? Because religion is an inexact science. This premise, along with the role religion and the preponderance of evil played in the attacks, are some of the things that set Whitney's program apart from the countless other 9-11 retrospectives airing throughout this month." ...


» The Denver Post Joanne Ostrow

... "As Americans grope for understanding in the wake of 9/11, a moving 'Frontline' documentary examines how spirituality has been affected by the tragedy.

"The film asks the inevitable questions. Where was God on Sept. 11? Does evil exist outside bad human behavior? How have people changed their attitudes toward God and religion as a result of the events of that day? And how was religion responsible for the terrorist attacks in the first place?

"PBS' two-hour 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero' tackles the spiritual questions flowing out of 9/11 in a rare production that moves the discussion to a higher level. ...

"While the 'Faith and Doubt' discussion is lofty, accompanying visuals include the too-familiar images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center buildings, slow-motion pictures of billowing smoke and imploding towers, people running in the streets, bodies falling from windows.

"Some viewers may resent the repeated use of footage of the attacks in 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.'" ...


» The Seattle Times Jacqueline Cutler

... "This intense grappling with faith is at the center of a new installment of 'Frontline' titled 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.' ...

"The two-hour documentary contains powerful material. Footage of the initial attacks continues to stun, and the images of desperate victims jumping to their deaths still pack an emotional punch.

"As heartbreaking as it is to listen to parents talk about their murdered children and as laudable as it is to tackle the often-elusive subject of faith, that does not make this a great documentary.

"This is in no way a slight against those who mourn and those who wrestle with the most basic tenets of faith. When the documentary features a young widow talking about her former conversations with God, it does what it should. It makes viewers think about the parents who never came home and how those left behind struggle with concepts they had long accepted, such as the existence of God.

"When, however, the documentary gives way to indulgences such as repeated fast-forward shots of changing skies, lingering images of the cosmos and rambling interviews with, among others, the former curator of New York's Museum of Modern Art, it loses its purpose." ...


» The Dallas Morning News Ed Bark

... "PBS' Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero is exemplary even for Frontline, long a reliable provider of first-rate, thought-provoking documentaries.

"In this case, its talking-head 'sound bites' often stretch into full meals. New Yorkers emotionally speak at length about how the events of Sept. 11 shook their perceptions of good, evil and, most of all, God. Affecting, provocative and necessarily graphic in its opening minutes, Faith and Doubt won't be easy for anyone to navigate. Nor will it lose its grip, despite an occasional overabundance of mood music and imagery. ...

"Whatever your relationship with God, Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero is TV of a higher calling."


» The Houston Chronicle Ann Hodges

"'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero' is a soul-searching, two-hour testimonial from an impressive parade of people who bare their souls and share how their faith was strengthened, shaken, won or lost that day.

"This is no feel-good exercise; it moves you to tears. The spiritual backlash from 9/11 is intensely personal and frequently painful. The 'answers' are as difficult as the questions.

"The two hours are well organized into four acts rich with music, a visual tapestry that goes well beyond the devastating news film. But you do see those familiar images again. ...

"The faces of brave people -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists -- fill the screen as their thoughts range the full field of faith. They speak with remarkable eloquence of their personal losses and their spiritual beliefs, or lack of same. ...

"'Frontline: Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero' is a splendid program. It raises the hope that TV's season of somber remembrance may leave us richer for having remembered."


» The Miami Herald Glenn Garvin

"So many stories have been written and broadcast wondering where the CIA and the FBI were on Sept. 11. Now Frontline asks a different and more wrenching question: Where was God? How could a just God, a merciful God, have permitted the slaughter of 3,000 people? Could the hijackers have been right -- could God have been on their side?

"Don't expect easy answers -- or any answers at all. The existence of evil in the face of an omniscient and omnipotent God has wracked religious faith since the beginning of time. Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero is not the sort of tidy inspirational package you find on the bookstore's self-help shelf. It's something much more rare: journalism that examines, without derision or condescension, troubling questions of religious faith." ...


» The San Diego Union-Tribune Sandi Dolbee

"This is one of the things Public Television does best. It has an amazing ability to weave captivating images of the event with eloquent, thoughtful interviews. ...

"The creators of 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero' said they set out to document a national conversation. 'What did America see that day?' they wondered. 'And what did it mean for our spiritual lives?'

"What they found is played out in a five-act drama. ...

"It is a program that is both deeply moving and deeply thoughtful. The producers waded into the valley of death and encountered atheists and Muslims and Jews and Christians.

"Through the voices of survivors and surviving relatives, the documentary finds hope amid the pain and solace amid the loss. There is both faith and doubt." ...


» The Seattle Times Kay McFadden

"...this superb 'Frontline' production is the 9/11 program that rises above all others.

"Spirituality is the engine that drives 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.' Those of us plagued since the World Trade Center attack by wondering what God or universe could permit such horror will find manifold connections here.

"What entirely unexpected is how transformative the act of viewing becomes. ...

"Perhaps the most stunning scene in 'Faith and Doubt' centers on one man's effort to find God amid the destruction. Using the recorded voicemail messages of those in the towers to their loved ones, Rabbi Irwin Kula has woven these snippets of farewell into a sung morning prayer.

"The program's photography, ranging from hushed cathedral settings to soaring concrete images of New York's man-made creations, is seamlessly in sync with the contents. ...

"'Faith and Doubt' goes beyond the future; it takes us to the eternal. It delves into an abyss, extracts meaning and makes it personal. Those who would contemplate the world must look inside."


» The Hollywood Reporter Ray Richmond

"It's a blessing that this profoundly thought-provoking, eloquent two-hour edition of PBS' 'Frontline' arrives on TV screens before most of the 9/11 programming onslaught that's poised to be unleashed. This is one commemorative special that deserves not to get lost in any shuffle, elaborating with candor and simplicity on how the unspeakable tragedy left a trail of shaken -- even destroyed -- belief systems in its wake. What distinguishes the remarkable 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero' is its focus on people rather than pictures, on aching questions rather than empty answers. ...

"'Ground Zero' peers with unflinching honesty at a mass murder whose wounds remain gaping and raw. Those wounds are not only to the heart but to the soul. As such, the show examines the very essence of spirituality along with the unanswerable question of 'Why?' ...

"... this 'Frontline' does much here to sensitively stoke the discussion of good and evil, of God's culpability and of the potential for darkness within religion itself. That it steers clear of foggy resolutions is to its supreme credit."


» Daily Variety Michael Speier

"With every news outlet from network mags to cable talk-shows covering the aftermath of Sept. 11, it's difficult to find a new angle, but PBS' 'Frontline' take a religious approach to America's grieving process with 'Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.' ... The two hours, mixing dogma with recovery and sorrow, are somber and effective, more thought-provoking than poignant, and while comments from professors an pundits are smart, they seem like generalities; the most moving points come from those who've been directly touched by the events.

"Educators, clergymen and writers try to construct rationales and grand-scheme-of-things ideologies, some of which may frustrate viewers. As with the rest of the Sept. 11-anniversary projects airing in the next few days, it's the true victims -- fathers who lost sons, wives who lost husbands -- whose words most resonate here. ...

"A talking-head technique is all that's needed in a project like this; it's hard to imagine anything besides language layered over the billows of smoke coming from downtown Gotham. And for critics who claim that enough is enough when it comes to Sept. 11 TV exposure, 'Faith' is a testament to its necessity. It may be asking a lot, but the people who perished deserve all of it."

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