First Look: DocuWeek's Untold 9/11 Story of Cantor Fitzgerald, 'Out of the Clear Blue Sky'

Festivals
by Sophia Savage
July 30, 2012 7:00 AM
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On September 10, 2001, financial firm Cantor Fitzgerald was headquartered on the top 5 floors of the World Trade Center. With offices soaring 100 stories above downtown Manhattan, the Wall Street powerhouse was unknown to the public until tragedy struck. On September 11, 2001, 658 of their employees were missing - presumed dead - in the nation's worst terrorist attacks. Overnight, Cantor became world famous for the worst of all possible reasons.

One of the few who survived was their notorious CEO Howard Lutnick, who had been taking his son to his first day of kindergarten when the planes hit. On September 13th, Lutnick's emotionally raw, tear-filled interviews transfixed the nation. His distraught television appearances struck a deep personal chord with millions of traumatized Americans reeling and shell-shocked by the unprecedented attacks.

But, within a week, in a move that was to become very controversial, Lutnick stopped the paychecks of his missing employees. It was an act that has been praised by some – as a necessary decision to save the company to help the widows of his fallen friends -- but severely lambasted by more -- as a self-serving, heartless betrayal by a man well known for his ruthlessness. Lutnick’s prior reputation as cut-throat - even by Wall Street standards - preceded him.

The media turned on him and Lutnick went from sympathetic face-of-the-tragedy to vilified pariah overnight. Then he completely withdrew from the public eye. Though Cantor suffered almost twice the casualties of the FDNY, the Cantor story soon disappeared.

Directed by a September 11th family member, “Out of the Clear Blue” tells twin stories – not only the saga of the ravaged business and surviving employees, but also an insider’s take on the unusual community of families that formed in the aftermath. Cantor’s loss was not only the largest loss by a single entity, it also created the largest single group of mourners, over 6000 people bound by their horrific common experience. This was tragedy writ large. People too young to die, all knowing each other, lost on one day. There wasn’t one memorial to attend; there were 10 a day for over two months, forcing people to choose whose funeral to go to. It wasn’t one dead per family; it was double or even triple losses in a family. This wasn’t a private loss; this was as public as could be, with television images played and re-played endlessly and inescapably. A true stranger-than-fiction account, from the jittery and stunned first days -- a time unlike any other in American memory -- then unfolding over months and years, the film captures what it’s like being caught in the crosshairs of history.

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