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The Trees

The Trees
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A feature-lenght documentary about the design and construction of the National September 11th Memorial Plaza.



About the Film

Filmed over the course of five years, The Trees is an untold story of how life returning to Ground Zero. The Trees documents the journey of 420 oak trees, first as saplings dug from the states where 9/11 victims lost their lives, then nurtured for seven years at a nursery in New Jersey, and finally transplanted as symbols of hope and life at the World Trade Center Memorial Plaza in New York City. Our storytellers are the men and women who design, grow, build, and document this living memorial. Through them, the film examines our fundamental need for healing and rebirth after tragedy, and how trees—seemingly so simple—are fundamental in our journey toward solace.

Made with the cooperation of the National September 11th Memorial & Museum and featuring full access to the construction site, The Trees offers an unparalleled and fresh perspective on the story of the creation of the 9/11 Memorial Plaza. 

The Trees follows a cast of characters passionate about their work. We meet Jason Bond, self-described as “kooky about trees,” who cares for the 400 swamp oaks as if they were his children. Architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker are the visionaries. They lead us through the design process and their hope that the plaza will become a vital green space for the public. Ultimately, they clash. Tom Cox is charged with the task of transplanting 400 trees into one of the world’s most complex, sustainable green roofs. Richie Cabo, a retired corrections officer wounded in the line of duty, nurtures back to health the Survivor Tree, the last living thing pulled from Ground Zero. Anne Van Hine is a tour guide at the Memorial who carries acorns from the oaks in her pockets. She lost her husband, a firefighter and an arborist, on 9-11. For her, the trees are a powerful symbol of life and hope. Erica Svendsen and Lindsay Campbell, social scientists at the United States Forest Service, take us along to visit some of the other living memorials in the New York area, unofficial community memorials created by individuals that demonstrate the power of communities to create their own personal ways of remembering. Erica notes, “for centuries humans have used nature as a symbolic and innate response to mark the cycles of life.”

Throughout the film, we return to the trees as characters: through beautiful fall color, to the winter when they are bare, to a hopeful spring when the Survivor Tree blooms, to the summer, when New Yorkers, tourists, survivors and 9/11 family members gather in their shade to relax, remember, and heal under their branches.

In a lyrical, poetic visual style, the film explores in depth what it means to remember and how we can simultaneously grow a vital public open space in one of the densest neighborhoods in the city.


Audience, Distribution and Outreach

The filmmakers plan a multi-pronged distribution strategy that includes a festival run, domestic and international broadcast – ideally PBS or HBO – around the 15th anniversary of 9/11/01, multi-platform digital streaming (VOD, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc.), educational DVD sales, and grassroots screenings around the country.

The key element to implementing this plan is identifying influencers and partnering with associations, organizations and companies who work in the areas of urban greening, tree planting, and open spaces. Potential partners include the Project for Public Spaces, The New York Restoration Project, Trees for the Future, Friends of the Urban Forest, and the Arbor Day Foundation. We also plan to partner with the numerous 9/11 organizations, such as Families of September 11, Voices of September 11, and Tuesday’s Children. 

Collaboration with these organizations will then tie in to a robust social marketing plan that includes multi-channel social media to reach our core audience. Through our partnerships, we will plan 200-500 screenings across the country, relying on our partners to set up and execute screenings with their membership.

One of our key ideas in our marketing plan is the creation of a viral social action activity called Plant an Oak Tree for Peace. Currently, in late summer there are thousands of acorns that blanket the 9/11 Memorial and are simply thrown away. We plan to create a “day of action” around the 15th anniversary of 9/11 when volunteers will gather these acorns then distribute them to communities around the world for planting. This simple act of burying an acorn and growing a tree will perpetuate the memory of 9/11 and the desire to spread hope and peace in its aftermath .This program also will be tied to community-based screenings of The Trees. Viewers will receive a packet of acorns along with their copy of the film so that after the screening, they can plant their own offspring of a 9/11 oak. We envision this becoming a viral program that could continue annually, further drawing attention to The Trees film in perpetuity.


The Filmmaker

Director Scott Elliott’s first documentary feature, Slumming It: Myth and Culture on the Bowery aired on PBS’ Reel New York in 2003. Scott’s most recent film, Into the Gyre, about plastic pollution in the Atlantic Ocean, has won numerous awards, including Best Picture at the 2012 Scinema Festival of Science Film. He lives in Brooklyn.


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