Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 24 September 2010 00:00
On Saturday, Sept. 11, nine years to the day after the attack on the World Trade Center, Vito After: A 9/11 Responder Copes in the Aftermath, a documentary chronicling the day-to-day challenges faced by former NYPD detective Vito Friscia in the years following the attack, was screened at Syosset Library. While it’s been close to a decade since that infamous day, the questions posed to Friscia and Syosset filmmaker Maria Pusateri after the film- as well as the strong emotion that was nearly palpable in the theater during the showing- made it clear that memories of the event are still very close to the surface for local residents.
Pusateri said that she got the idea for the film when she saw a newspaper article on the subject of the health problems encountered by 9/11 responders in November of 2001, not realizing at the time that Friscia, her brother-in-law, was shown in the accompanying photo. “I called up my sister-in-law and said ‘maybe this is why Vito keeps getting sick,” Pusateri remembered. Lisa Friscia, Vito’s wife, recognized her husband from the back in the photo.
Soon after, Pusateri followed Vito around on and off for close to two years while he and his co-workers dealt with persistent health problems as a result of their rescue efforts. Today, Vito Friscia still has sinus issues and what is referred to at the end of the film as “the WTC cough.”
The film features Friscia talking about his experiences as a responder at the WTC site, and about the process of sifting through the rubble from the destroyed buildings at the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island- although he refrains from going into detail about certain aspects of the experience out of respect to the victims’ families. Throughout the film, Friscia is encouraged by his family to seek medical attention for the symptoms he’s developed since the attack, including intermittent coughing, clogged sinuses, and shortness of breath. Friscia’s co-workers are also shown to be suffering many of the same symptoms. The film also features explanations from several doctors about the symptoms shared by many WTC responders- although the prognosis, unfortunately, is largely up in the air.
However, despite the sobering reality of the after-effects from the rescue work experienced by the police officers, hope is prevalent throughout the film in the form of Friscia’s wife, children, and the players on his daughter Lisa’s soccer team, whom Friscia spiritually adopts as though they were his own daughters.
After the screening, attendees shared their memories of that infamous day with Pusateri and Friscia. For his part, Friscia said he no longer discusses the event very much, even with his co-workers who were there. “No one really discusses it; it’s put away somewhere, let’s put it that way,” said Friscia with a sad smile.
While Pusateri said that her attempts to get the film broadcast on television have not met with success thus far, the film will be getting more exposure via Reframe, part of the Tribeca Film Institute. Once separate sites, Reframe and the Tribeca Film Institute main site will be merging and utilizing a new social media strategy, to better promote and market films like Vito After.
Vito After won the Best Documentary award at the 2006 Long Island International Film Festival, and was also an official selection at the Global Peace Film Festival in 2006, as well as many other film festivals. For more information about Vito After, visit the film’s website at www.VitoAfter.com.