New Season of Poly on Film Debuts

Poly on Film 9/11 Memorial plaque

Poly on Film, Poly’s unique, creative forum brings together alumni in film and television and current students and community. To mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this month, Poly on Film begins its second season on September 29 at 7 PM by featuring a very personal recounting of Poly’s experience of the day, as documented in the 2002 WNET-produced film Lessons of September. The discussion will be presented via Zoom and excerpts from the film will be shown during the discussion.

Poly’s Director of Arts Outreach Robert Aberlin ‘62, P’00, ‘03, who co-produced the film, and John Denatale, executive producer of the film for WNET, will moderate the panel.

Poly on Film Bud Cox
Bud Cox

Among the Poly on Film panelists, we will welcome back former Head of Upper School Bud Cox; former Head of Lower School Maureen Walsh; former Poly history teacher Khuram Hussain; Paulette Hasson, mother of Joseph Hasson III ‘85, one of the Poly alumni who perished on 9/11; and Olivia Rotondi (Penka) ‘04, the first Joseph Hasson 9/11 Memorial Scholar.

Poly On Film, Olivia Rotondi (Penka) ‘04
Olivia Rotondi (Penka) ‘04

In this very moving documentary, students described that Tuesday morning at school and the days after. Administrators discuss how the community came together to support the 9/11 families, building the Memorial Garden, and the establishment of the 9/11 Memorial Scholars program. A parent and a sister of 9/11 victims talk about the devastating loss their families suffered. A former history teacher, who is Muslim, talks about teaching the lessons of tolerance after the attacks and not stereotyping a whole group based on the horrific actions of a few.

Panelists Share Personal Accounts

“I hope students will see that after the attacks people really came together, not just at Poly, but throughout the country and the world.

John Denatale
Poly on Film John Denatale
John Denatale

When John Denatale, executive producer of the film for WNET, was asked what he hoped attendees might learn from the film, he said,  “I hope students will see that after the attacks people really came together, not just at Poly, but throughout the country and the world. Unlike today, in which we see such vicious attacks from opposing political camps in the U.S., at that time everyone felt a sense of needing to support one another through a terrible time. I hope that young people are able to find hope in that message. Perhaps it may inspire some to seek a more positive national discourse, and to strive for a lasting sense of unity and respect for other voices.”

Poly on Film Maureen Walsh
Maureen Walsh

Denatale said his most vivid memory of the day was, “watching the second tower get hit and standing on Flatbush Avenue until it collapsed. I watched fire trucks racing toward the disaster, and later found out they never returned. I remember rushing to my son’s middle school on Fifth Avenue to take him home and the smoke and ashes from the tower were already falling on us. Over the next several days I went down to the World Trade Center site and filmed news stories for PBS and started working on a series of TV specials with Bill Moyers and Gwen Ifill called New York Voices. The sense of New York City being fragile and of people trying to come to terms with what had happened was palpable, and of course the fact that so many people in our community knew someone who was missing. Such a tragic feeling.”

Maureen Walsh, Head of Poly’s Lower School at the time, recalls, “It’s hard to understand now how confusing and frightening the morning was, and I had a great number of parents coming to our building on Prospect Park West.  They were not sure why they came, initially they intended to take their children home.  But they stayed together, allowing their children to continue with the school day but clinging together, being together.  It showed me just how powerful a school community can be.”

Walsh remembers watching the first tower fall from the roof of the school building and the F-16 jets flying overhead and being with colleagues. “We tried very hard to shield our young children from what was going on that day,” Walsh said. “Losing [teacher] Pat O’Berg’s [firefighter] brother was a devastation, and how to talk about ‘the events’ was difficult.  What to ‘call’ the ‘events of September 11’?  The heroic firefighters loomed large for us, and we had a visit from the local engine company a few weeks later for us to give gifts the students had created in thanks and in tribute to Dennis O’Berg.  It was very moving for us adults when the firefighters arrived and hugged the children, really quite overwhelming to be honest.”

The Poly community is invited to please register to attend Poly on Film on September 29.

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Coming Next in Poly on Film
The next installment of Poly on Film will be a discussion on 9 Man: A Street Battle in the Heart of Chinatown on Wednesday, October 20 at 7 PM. The panel will include Robert Aberlin; Ursula Liang, director; Nancy Bulalacao P’33, director of public programs; Nick Lee ‘04, former Poly math teacher; Richard Quann ‘16; and Maggie Moslalnder, Chair of the History Department. Please register for this Zoom event.

Alumni-in-Film Series

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