The Examiner

P’ville 9/11 Widow’s Documentary to Air on PBS Tonight

We are part of The Trust Project
The Tunnel to Towers Run, started by 9/11 widow Sarah Siller, is one of the featured stories in "From the Ground Up."

For nearly a decade Andrea Garbarini wanted to tell a different side of how the tragedy of Sept. 11 has impacted the lives of victims’ families. Not the ones that have been on the news for the last 10 years, reliving the grief and mourning, but how many of the spouses and children have made a difference in the world.

She finally got that chance on Thursday night.

Playing to two packed screenings at the Jacob Burns Film Center, “From the Ground Up” features four fire department widows who have each tried to overcome their loss by taking up a charitable cause in the spirit and memory of their lost husbands. Garbarini, whose husband, Charley, a New York City Fire Department lieutenant at Engine 23 in Manhattan who died at the World Trade Center, produced the 30-minute documentary. It was directed by the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Beth and George Gage, who met Garbarini near their Colorado home the summer after the tragedy when she and her sons went out west to camp.
“You don’t hear these stories, you don’t hear the wonderful story of the women that are doing things that are helping–large and small acts of kindness,” said Garbarini who will donate all proceeds from the film to the women’s charities.

She was joined by three of the four women featured in the film. Maureen Fanning, the mother of two autistic sons, realized her husband Jack’s dream of establishing a group home for autistic children on Long Island; Una McHugh launched a foundation to build a library near her Rockland County home in memory of her husband, Dennis, who loved to take their daughter to read; and Sarah Siller, the widow of Stephen Siller, created an annual race retracing the firefighter’s last steps running through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel carrying 70 pounds of gear to the burning towers. The Stephen Siller Foundation has raised more than $7 million for children’s causes.

Also shown in the film was Garbarini’s trip to Rwanda where she connected with women who were widowed through genocide.

The film uses as a drop back a fourth woman, Kate Richardson, who gives tours at the Tribute Center near the World Trade Center site as a way to help keep the memory of her husband, Bob McPadden, alive. Richardson has since remarried.

“These are the people who changed the world since 9/11,” Siller said. “When I look at the film, I truly understand why.”

The documentary is scheduled to air on PBS three times this weekend: on Channel 13 tonight (Friday, Sept. 9) at 9:30 p.m. and Sept. 12 at 12:30 a.m. and on Saturday night on WLIW (Channel 21) at 9:30 p.m. The Oprah Winfrey Network has also scheduled to show “From the Ground Up” Sunday night at 10:15 p.m.

Siller and Fanning each talked about the hesitancy of opening up to the cameras. They were persuaded by Garbarini to consider telling their stories and after meeting the Gages each woman gained enough of a comfort level to be filmed.

“I’m very happy with it,” Fanning told the crowd at the Burns following the evening’s second screening. “It was very professionally done. It captured whatever Andrea intended to say.”

Beth Gage said respecting their subjects was a crucial element. While using images of the burning towers was needed, they deftly interspersed still photography and the interviews to tell a compelling story of how these woman have found ways to cope and overcome their grief.

“I think one thing that George and I feel really strongly about, when we make a film we want the subject in the film to feel comfortable and approve of what we’ve done,” Beth Gage said.

Garbarini said she would have liked the film to have included several other scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor, such as how spending more time with her sons after Sept. 11 helped with her involvement with the Pleasantville schools’ Edible Garden. But she added that the film was a “half hour by budget.”

George Gage said there were several other reasons to keep it short.

“I think so many documentaries are too long and I think it’s really the only point that Andrea and I disagreed with on the whole project,” he said. “Andrea would  have liked to have made the film a little longer but I feel especially with this it’s the perfect length.”

The film’s half-hour duration will also allow schools to easily fit into their schedules, Gage said. One goal is to have high schools across the country use the documentary as a tool to help students, some of whom are too young to remember or understand Sept. 11.

Although there are constant reminders around them nearly every day of Sept. 11 and it would be understandable if they exuded bitterness, each woman has dedicated herself to starting a project where there is goodness from the tragedy.

“I can’t let my grief walk in front of me because if I let my grief walk in front of me I’ll be devastated for the rest of my life,” Siller said.

For more on the film, visit

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.