CNN's 9/11 documentary footage gets updates 15 years later

Fifteen years on, a generation of Americans who have no firsthand memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are starting to come of age. That realization weighed on the filmmakers behind "9/11" as they prepared the 15th anniversary edition of the extraordinary documentary that features the only video footage shot inside the World Trade Center on that devastating morning.

The backstory of "9/11" is well-known by now: French filmmakers Jules and Gédéon Naudet and firefighter/director James Hanlon were filming a documentary about a rookie firefighter when they found themselves bearing witness to history. Jules Naudet caught footage of the first plane hitting Tower 1, and he followed firefighters inside the building as the frantic rescue effort began. His camera kept rolling even as the skyscraper collapsed.

SEE MORE: 15 iconic images from 9/11 and its aftermath

15 most iconic images from September 11, 2001 and aftermath
See Gallery
15 most iconic images from September 11, 2001 and aftermath
Content in this photo gallery may be difficult for some to see -- viewer discretion is advised. 

This September 11, 2001 file photo shows US President George W. Bush interrupted by his Chief of Staff Andrew Card(L) shortly after news of the New York City airplane crashes was available in Sarasota, Florida.

(Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 (L) flies toward the World Trade Center twin towers shortly before slamming into the south tower as the north tower burns following an earlier attack by a hijacked airliner in New York City September 11, 2001. The stunning aerial assaults on the huge commercial complex where more than 40,000 people worked on an ordinary day were part of a coordinated attack aimed at the nation's financial heart. They destroyed one of America's most dramatic symbols of power and financial strength and left New York reeling. (REUTERS/Sean Adair)

The second tower of the World Trade Center explodes into flames after being hit by a airplane, New York September 11, 2001 with the Brooklyn bridge in the foreground. Both towers of the complex collapsed after being hit by hijacked planes.

(REUTERS/Sara K. Schwittek)

Photo shows the point of impact where a plane crashed into the North tower of the World Trade Center in New York City early September 11, 2001. Three hijacked planes crashed into major U.S. landmarks on Tuesday, destroying both of New York's mighty twin towers and plunging the Pentagon in Washington into flames, in an unprecedented assault on key symbols of U.S. military and financial power.

(Jeff Christensen / Reuters)

This 11 September 2001 file photo shows Marcy Borders covered in dust as she takes refuge in an office building after one of the World Trade Center towers collapsed in New York. Borders was caught outside on the street as the cloud of smoke and dust enveloped the area.

(Photo credit STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

A true-color image taken by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) aboard the Landsat 7 satellite on September 12, 2001 shows New York City and the smoldering World Trade Center following the September 11, 2001 attacks in this handout photo courtesy of NASA. The image was captured at roughly 11:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time.


A person falls to their death from the World Trade Center after two planes hit the Twin Towers September 11, 2001 in New York City.

(Photo by Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images)

The south tower of the World Trade Center collapses September 11, 2001 in New York City.

(Thomas Nilsson/ Getty Images)

This 11 September 2001 file photo shows pedestrians running from the scene as one of the World Trade Center towers collapses in New York City following a terrorist plane crash on the twin towers.

(DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Rescue operations at Ground Zero; Firefighters finding victims and searching for survivors at the wreckage of the World Trade Center Towers following Tuesday's Terrorist attack in New York, United states on September 14, 2001.

(Photo by Graham MORRISON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Rescue workers carry fatally injured New York City Fire Depatment Chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, from one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, early September 11, 2001. Both towers were hit by planes crashing into the buildings and collapsed a short time later.

(REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

The damaged area of the Pentagon building, where a hijacked commercial jetliner slammed into it September 11, 2001, is seen in this file photo with the U.S. Capitol Building in the background, at sunrise on September 16, 2001.

(REUTERS/Larry Downing)

Firefighters raise a U.S. flag at the site of the World Trade Center after two hijacked commercial airliners were flown into the buildings September 11, 2001 in New York.

(Photo by 2001 The Record (Bergen Co. NJ)/Getty Images)

A New York City fireman calls for more rescue workers to make their way into the rubble of the World Trade Center September 15, 2001.

(REUTERS/Handout/U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres)

Members of the New York Fire and Police Departments salute as a truck carrying the last steel column of the World Trade Center moves up West Street from inside of the World Trade Center site May 30, 2002 as the recovery effort at Ground Zero officially ends in New York.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


The Naudet brothers and Hanlon have produced updated material for "9/11" every five years. As work on the 15th anniversary edition began, the trio decided it was time to ensure the movie would be preserved and properly showcased for generations to come. They cut a deal for CNN to acquire all rights to the film and all of the raw footage they collected on Sept. 11 and the days that followed. CNN plans to build a digital archive for "9/11" material that will allow users to access roughly 100 hours of footage, the vast majority of it unseen.

"We often talk to high school students, and one of the more fascinating things about the kids who were either too young or not born [on Sept. 11] is that they are such a visual generation," Jules Naudet says. "The film resonates so much more with them. They can put themselves in that place."

CNN will air "9/11: Fifteen Years Later" twice starting at 8 p.m. on Sept. 11. A limited amount of new material will be available on the CNN Films website, but the archive will take time to build out. For starters, they have to digitize and preserve all of the master tapes.

TV Tributes
Several channels have slated special programming to mark the anniversary.
"Ground Zero Rising: Freedom vs. Fear"
An hour-long look at the revitalization of the World Trade Center site
"America's 9/11 Flag: Rise From the Ashes"
Details the disappearance of the flag raised in the WTC rubble by three firefighters
"9/11/01: The Today Show"
A three-hour rerun of the NBC show that day
Fox News
"9/11: Timeline of Terror"
Draws from the network's archives to re-create the timeline of events
Smithsonian Channel
"9/11: Day That Changed the World"
Revisits the actions of leaders including President George W. Bush

"This is not going to be just a dump of raw footage," says Amy Entelis, CNN's exec VP of talent and content development. "There is a big opportunity for us to organize the material in different ways and make interactive features. We want to make it into a resource not just for us but for people who are studying these events."

For the Naudets and Hanlon, reviewing the movie periodically reminds them of the global repercussions of the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, as well as the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. The attacks left nearly 3,000 dead, including 343 members of the New York City Fire Dept.

SEE MORE: How newspapers covered 9/11

Newspaper covers from the September 11 attacks
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Newspaper covers from the September 11 attacks
The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times both printed 'Extra' editions 11 September 2001 after the terrorist attacks on the United States. Two hijacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York while one hijacked plane later crashed at the Pentagon office building in Washington, D.C. Another plane crashed 80 miles outside of Pittsburgh, PA. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read AFP PHOTO/AFP/Getty Images)
A man reads the ''Evening Standard'' September 13, 2001 in Green Park, London after two hijacked airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center in New York as part of a suspected terrorist attack on New York City and Washington DC September 11, 2001. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES: US newspapers headline 12 September, 2001 the terror attacks on New York and Washington 11 September 2001. A total of four passenger jets were hijacked, with two flying into the World Trade Tower in New York and collapsing them, one flying into the Pentagon and the fourth crashed in a rural area of Pennsylvania. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 12: Terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 - FrontPages of French newspapers. (Photo by 1020/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
(Via Albuquerque Journal)
(Via Akron Beacon Journal)
(Via Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
(Via Philadelphia Inquirer)
(Photo via Detroit Free Press)
394272 02: A woman reads a copy of an evening newspaper reporting the terrorist attacks on the United States on an underground train September 11, 2001 in London. (Photo by Graham Barclay/BWP Media/Getty Images)
Front page of the Daily News dated Sept. 12, 2001, Headline: IT'S WAR, Smoke billows from north tower of the World Trade Center just an instant before the second jetliner hits the south tower during terrorist attack., (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
394319 03: The front page of the Chicago Sun-Times with a headline that reads 'OUTRAGE' regarding the terrorist attack on New York City's World Trade Center is displayed September, 12, 2001 in Chicago. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
Newspaper vendor Carlos Mercado sells the 'Extra' editon of the Chicago Sun-Times printed 11 September, 2001, after the terrorist attacks on the United States. Two hijacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York while one hijacked plane later crashed at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, with another plane crashing 80 miles outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. AFP PHOTO/Scott OLSON (Photo credit should read SCOTT OLSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Muslim spritual leader of a Brasilia mosque Nasser Aboujokh reads a newspaper 12 September, 2001, with the headline 'Fear' as it reports on the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC, 11 September. (Photo credit EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)

Newspapers Depicting The 9/11 Bombings In New York. (Photo by Photoshot/Getty Images)

"9/11 is really the turning point — it's when everything changed and [terrorism] took a different path," Gédéon Naudet says. The attacks in their native country in the past year are a prime example. "Unfortunately, it is the new normal," Jules Naudet says. "Terrorism is here to stay."

"9/11" previously aired three times on CBS — on March 10, 2002, and to commemorate the five- and 10-year anniversaries of the tragedy. The 2016 edition will feature a new intro from Denis Leary, who is closely aligned with advocacy for first responders. The updated material will focus on the ongoing health issues that 9/11 firefighters have battled, and the inspiring stories of
"legacy kids" — women and men who lost loved ones in the attack and have since become firefighters.

Hanlon retired from firefighting in 2007 to focus on his career as a TV director and actor. But seeing the "legacy kids" in action on the job reinforced the significance of the document that "9/11" provides.

In hindsight, Hanlon can't believe they managed to collect so much material — particularly the in-the-moment experiences of individual firefights from Ladder 1 near the WTC — under such catastrophic circumstances.

"We pulled each guy who returned to the firehouse and made them record what happened that day," Hanlon says. "Many years from now, when we're all gone, people will look back and see what happened. And we didn't put any spin on it. I'm proud of that historical record."

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