What is the film ‘New York Says Thank You’ all about?” New York Says Thank You is an epic story following the journey of New Yorkers whose lives were touched by September 11 as they travel the country helping communities rebuild after disasters. Along the way, they face their emotions and ultimately triumph over tragedy through an idea that evolved from a five-year-old New York City boy.
Interview with director Scott Rettberg and producer Megan Sleeper.
VIMOOZ: What led you to make a documentary on this subject?
Rettberg: I’ve always been interested in documentary, and I’ve always wanted to do an an “American” film, that could be a classic and explore something about the country. I heard about the project from my mom ( the story of the five year old boy in New York wanting to give back to the people affected by the fires in California) and was moved by how people had come together out of tragedy, just jumping in to help other communities. I wanted to capture that kind of human spirit that comes out of the worst conditions.
VIMOOZ: How did you first meet the main subjects of the film? How well did you get to know them?
Rettberg: I found out about a church build in Indiana in 2006, and rushed to observe the process. I got to know everyone involved. I then found the four main subjects in NY who are volunteers– a construction worker, two firefighters and a financial advisor.
Sleeper: I followed Scott to the builds, and I was very involved with the building and volunteering; I conducted the interviews with the four main subjects and others. I got to know people all over the country, and I now think of many of them as family.
VIMOOZ: How long did the film take to make?
Rettberg: It took five years; it turned into a much bigger film than I initially thought it would be. The film begins with a rebuild of the Iowa Boy Scout Camp in 2009 and then shows flashbacks of previous builds.
VIMOOZ: What was the experience like making a feature film versus your experience with television?
Rettberg: It was a learning experience, and it opened my eyes to compassion during the process. Everyone in the crew are accomplished in the industry, and they took off for a couple of weeks here and there to give their time to this project, so it was a labor of love for everyone.
Sleeper: I do casting for reality TV shows, and I took my experience in that and used it while interviewing for this documentary. I was able to bring some of that experience into this project. It was a different experience from TV because I was working on the same subject for five years.
VIMOOZ: Have the subjects of the film seen it? If so, what was their reaction?
Rettberg: I did have private screenings for the four main subjects. Since the subject is a sensitive one, I wanted them to have a chance to see it in a private setting. Charlie, the construction worker, who was suspicious of me just being another exploitative reporter, was very happy with the film and said it was much better than he thought it would be.
VIMOOZ: Do you prefer feature films to television or do enjoy working in both fields?
Rettberg: I absolutely want to make more feature documentaries. I, and most of the crew, work in television for an income, but I’d love to be able to balance that work with my passion for documentaries.
Sleeper: I want to work on more documentaries; I recently worked on a short documentary in Armenia, which was a great experience. So I will probably continue to work in both fields.
VIMOOZ: How do you feel about your film being at Tribeca?
Rettberg: Tribeca has always been the place for the film. The festival brought a spotlight back to Manhattan, and built a community, which is what the film is all about– the community of NYC and good people coming together. Tribeca was always my dream; the story of the film is parallel to the story of Tribeca.
VIMOOZ: Has the film been to other festivals/ will it?
Rettberg: We’re interested in other festivals but there’s nothing final yet, probably in the future.
VIMOOZ: What are your hopes for this film; how do you hope to distribute it?
Rettberg: Our goal is to inspire people to volunteer, so we’re trying to make it as widely available as possible, especially on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, either theatrically or some other platform in different communities. We’re looking into all forms of distribution, including online.
Sleeper: The most important thing is to inspire people to help, and being able to do that on the anniversary is a big goal. We want to be able to show a film about the good that came out of 9/11.
VIMOOZ: Any new projects?
Retteberg: My entire focus right now is this film and Tribeca. There have been other projects pitched, but nothing to announce yet.
Sleeper: No, I have no other projects right now.