Film & video

4 Free Essential 9/11 Documentaries

Discover these free to watch documentaries to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, the world as we knew it changed forever. Al Qaeda terrorists had hijacked four US commercial planes to carry out suicide attacks on key US targets.

Two of them were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, New York, while the third hit the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. The fourth plane never reached its target, as passengers bravely wrestled with the hijackers, finally crashing into a field in Pennsylvania.

It was the deadliest terrorist attack in human history, resulting in almost 3,000 fatalities.

Memorial for the 9/11 victims in New York City. Photo by Anthony Fomin on Unsplash.
Memorial for the 9/11 victims in New York City. Photo by Anthony Fomin on Unsplash.

Since then, numerous documentaries have been made detailing the harrowing events, including a host of documentaries released this year to mark the 20th anniversary of that fateful day.

But why is it so important to continue reliving the darker episodes of our history, and what role can a documentary in particular play in their aftermath?

The role of the documentary

Documentaries are powerful mediums to inform and educate. They can act as a catalyst to spark meaningful conversations around controversial issues, even inspiring great and significant changes. They allow a window into another place and time, bringing us closer to events as they happened, and digging deep into the social and political landscape to expose truths we do not always wish to acknowledge.

While they may not always be entirely objective, a well-researched documentary can be a much more reliable source of information than many of the unfounded opinions and “alternative facts” we are fed on social media in our post-truth society.

Michael Moore is a notorious American documentary director and author of 'Fahrenheit 9/11'.
Michael Moore is a notorious American documentary director and author of 'Fahrenheit 9/11'.

Equally as important though, is that documentaries give a human face to events, allowing victims and survivors a voice to narrate their own experiences, and building a greater sense of empathy and compassion among their audiences.

From the tragedy of 9/11 sprang stories of bravery, sacrifice, and even hope. These voices must be heard so that 9/11 does not become simply a date in history, but one that lives on in our collective memory in a way that honors those who lost their lives and teaches us some valuable lessons.

Essential 9/11 Documentaries

In this Domestika article, we take a look at some of the best free documentaries to watch if you are interested in gaining a better understanding of this key moment in history, as well as the impact it has had on both the US and the world as a whole.

* Please note, the following material has been created by independent parties and does not reflect the personal opinions or beliefs of Domestika or the author.

102 Minutes that changed America | Nicole Rittenmeyer, Seth Skundrick | 2008

A History channel documentary that uses mostly raw footage from amateur citizen-journalists to document the events of 9/11 in real time.

It was first aired on September 11th 2008 to mark the 7th anniversary of the event, and subsequently went on to receive 4 Emmy Awards including Outstanding Nonfiction Special and Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming.

Click here to watch the full documentary.

9/11: The Falling Man | Henry Singer | 2006

Of all the footage taken on 9/11, the image of a man free-falling from the top of a burning skyscraper will remain etched in our minds forever. It seemed to capture the tragedy of that day like no other.

The powerful photo was taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew, who said he likes to think of the man "as the unknown soldier, let him represent everyone (for whom) that was their fate that day".

'9/11: The Falling Man', by Henry Singer.
'9/11: The Falling Man', by Henry Singer.

This documentary, directed by Henry Singer, looks at the context of this now-famous image, the photographer who took it, and the reasons why it was later deemed un-newsworthy.

Click here to watch the full documentary.

Fahrenheit 9/11 | Michael Moore | 2004

While it has been labelled by many as controversial and biased, this documentary by filmmaker Michael Moore is an interesting and highly critical take on George Bush’s presidency and the war in Iraq.

A worthwhile watch for those interested in the wider consequences of the 9/11 attack.

Click here to watch the full documentary.

Hotel Ground Zero | Steve Humphries | 2009

This documentary focuses on the lesser-told story of the guests at the Marriott World Trade Center.

'Hotel Ground Zero', by Steve Humphries.
'Hotel Ground Zero', by Steve Humphries.

The hotel, directly below the twin towers, was also destroyed in the attack. This documentary provides an intimate and highly-moving eyewitness account of the events of that day, told by the people who escaped from the hotel.

Click here to watch the full documentary.

Further suggestions

Generation 9/11, on PBS - stories from the children of the victims of 9/11 who had not yet been born at the time.

Escape From The Towers, on Amazon Prime - a harrowing look at the people who managed to escape from the World Trade Center.

9/11: Inside the President’s War Room, on Apple TV - documenting the 12 hours directly following the attacks through the eyes of George W. Bush.

Heroes of Ground Zero, on Amazon Prime - This moving documentary by director Katherine English, tells the story of the 343 New York Firefighters who died risking their lives to rescue victims of the attack. It also follows colleagues from two different fire stations as they come to terms with their great loss.


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