NEW YORK -- Lilibet Foster didn't want to create yet another documentary about Sept. 11. She wanted to make a film about how New York City firefighters have carried on their traditions and fraternity after losing so many friends and colleagues that day.
The result is "Brotherhood," which made its world premiere Monday night at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Having "Brotherhood" debut at Tribeca is "a perfect fit," said Foster, the director and co-producer, since the festival was created in 2002 to help revitalize downtown Manhattan after the terrorist attacks.
"What other festival would make as much sense? We also really wanted to celebrate the firemen and the fire department, and we wanted to do it someplace they could all come," she said.
Dozens of "New York's Bravest," as they're known, showed up on a windy, rainy night for the premiere, many in their blue dress uniforms. They walked the red carpet alongside action star Vin Diesel and Robert De Niro, co-founder of the festival in the neighborhood where he lives and works.
"We're not only honored but feel morally obligated to show this film in the neighborhood where so many made the ultimate sacrifice," De Niro told the audience before the film began.
Foster, who's from the Virgin Islands but has lived in the United States for the past 13 years, said she hadn't really thought about firefighters before Sept. 11, when she lost a close friend in one of the World Trade Center towers.
Now, any money she makes from the documentary - which is still looking for a distributor - will go back to fire department charities.
Foster, who was nominated for an Oscar for producing the 1999 documentary "Speaking in Strings," said she wanted to spend time at firehouses in more than one borough, and she wanted to make sure one of them was in Manhattan. What she found was a similar structure in each house she visited: There was the funny guy, the senior guy, the new guy.
"I went to every single borough," she said. "Normally, I'd walk in faced with 12 guys and - especially if it was an engine and ladder company - they'd all look at me and say, 'What is it you want to do?' ... I was looking for the best place to really be able to capture brotherhood."
But she also had to win them over - and some firefighters figured she was just one more director making a documentary about Sept. 11, especially since she was doing legwork around the one-year anniversary of the attacks.
When she'd tell them she was more interested in depicting the sense of fraternity that binds firefighters, "there would be a huge sigh of relief. They were immediately much more open to the idea."
"I was asking a lot - 'I want to live in your house with a camera for a long time.' Then they had to decide if they could trust me."
She knew she wanted to focus attention on Rescue Company 1 in Manhattan, where Paul Hashagan, a decorated veteran, was retiring after 25 years.
Then she walked into the busy Squad 252 in Bushwick, a poor section of Brooklyn, and "I fell in love with that house." Plus, Squad 252 had a hazardous materials team, so she thought shooting footage of such emergencies would be timely.
"For me, it's the little stories that tell the big story," she said. "If something had to do with Code Orange, or this buzzword 'weapons of mass destruction,' whatever I captured in the house would be a reflection of all our lives."
The third house was Rescue Company 4 in Queens, where several eager, middle-rank firefighters were left after the terrorist attacks and retirements thinned their ranks.
"This job is a life-and-death job. Your life and your brothers' lives depend upon it," the charismatic Capt. Ed Metcalf barks at a group of recruits at the film's start.
"You're on the payroll - you ain't in the brotherhood. You ain't in the brotherhood 'til the brothers in the firehouse say you're in the brotherhood. And there's a big difference."
After spending so much time with these guys, Foster felt completely comfortable with them - even in the scariest of blazes, for which she'd rig a camera up to one of the firefighters to shoot images through the smoke.
"You also start to forget that there might be danger," she said. "You're running on adrenaline like they are."
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