Michael Shulan was a struggling novelist and owner of a storefront space in New York’s trendy Soho neighborhood. The attacks on the World Trade Center changed his life forever. He turned his Prince Street space into a now famous crowdsourced photo exhibit called “here Is new york: a democracy of photographs” Over the course of five years, he became known as one of the world’s leading experts on 9/11 photography. Then, the lifelong outsider was invited to be part of something big. Shulan was named the Creative Director of the National 9/11 Museum at Ground Zero.
This is the story of his dream job and how it turned against him. His vision of an open, inclusive, participatory place for America to engage in the painful, personal story of 9/11 goes wrong. His role as creative leader turns into a daily battle to keep his vision alive. As Shulan explains it “I joined the Museum to create a story with open questions, but time and time again, my sentences had the question marked replaced with periods.” His nemesis is Alice Greenwald, the Museum’s director – who hires him, and then turns the museum’s open philosophy into a place that looks to put to rest the unanswered questions of 9/11.
Rosenbaum, Yoder, and their documentary team had unlimited access to the site, and to private internal meetings never before revealed. The conflicts around the museum’s curatorial process reflect the complicated feelings Americans have about 9/11 today. Being a fly on the wall as the WTC story is written provides a gripping journey into a piece of American history that is both unsettled and unsettling. Directors: Steven Rosenbaum & Pamela Yoder (US 2018) 83 min.