About Objects and Memory

"Finally, a film that connects our all too familiar material world with a spiritual one. As the filmmakers hunt the fugitive meanings of memory, we see mute things become spirit-talkers, whether a twisted beam from 9/11 or a rusting dog tag from the Vietnam era. Objects and Memory reminds us all how precious memories cling tenaciously to ordinary things, offering shared moments across cultural boundaries and historical time."
        - Kathleen Hulser,
          Public Historian of the New-York Historical Society.

Powerful events, whether historic or personal, divert the path to the future and produce ripples of change in their aftermath. In the face of sudden disruption and inexplicable loss, there is a strong need to bridge the irreplaceable past with a hopeful future. Objects and Memory presents stories of people preserving and offering meaningful objects. Through this we see how the tangible can represent the intangible and, the deeply personal can reveal great truths about the human spirit. Thematically, the film mirrors the process of healing after a traumatic historical event. Beginning soon after September 11, 2001, and guided by the narration of Frank Langella, the film follows, verité style, the efforts of museum curators and everyday folk who were driven to collect and preserve objects that, once ordinary, are now irreplaceable.

These scenes are interspersed with searching high-definition montages of the objects, along with testimonials about personally meaningful items. The impulse to keep and to offer meaningful objects - to memorialize, to find perspective, and to express emotion - is also explored in the context of other recent traumatic national events and memorials: the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial and the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The music of Philip Glass accompanies the high-definition imagery. In presenting meaningful physical symbols - those that speak, those that reach out, and those that heal - and their stories, in the unusually dramatic setting of their retrieval, Objects and Memory explores the things we most value. Without the objects, the stories would lack vibrancy; without the stories the objects would lack significance. Taken together, the images of the objects, the stories they evoke, and the stories of their collection lead the viewer on a journey where the commonplace is transformed into the remarkable and where the stuff of history is highly personalized.

When 9/11 occurred, we, like many others, felt a need to respond. We saw that historians and curators were striving to work while history was unfolding. They knew that important items needed to be saved, but were faced with personal and professional challenges and did not having the perspective to determine which objects would be valued in the future. As we followed their actions, we saw that ordinary people were likewise compelled to preserve meaningful objects or to bring items to sites of remembrance. We sensed that the stark realities of the event would illuminate ever-present and universal human drives and values, and that the stories captured would be important. As time went on, and the world continued to experience tragedies like Katrina and the Virginia Tech killings, it has become increasingly clear that this work and the discussions it will provoke are deeply relevant. The experiences and images that we filmed speak to fundamental qualities of the human spirit and the underlying motivations for much behavior. As 9/11 recedes into history, it has become a lens with which we can see how people respond in extraordinary times. As one of the most dramatic and pervasive events in our lifetimes, 9/11 threw basic responses and values into sharp relief.

Using this canvas to depict iconic stories lifts the film beyond a sole connection to this specific place and time and invites viewers to think about their own lives and values. People will always face situations that suddenly disrupt the expected path to the future. It is our aim to honor the memory of those lost and to help people better deal with such upheavals through understanding their own responses and motivations, and those of others. At the same time, we all can be more fully aware of our own intangible values, identity, and aspirations, and the tangible objects that represent them: those things that are simply irreplaceable. Objects and Memory addresses the importance of history - what we need to remember from those who preceded us, what we wish to pass on to the future, and why we need to do so. It explores the notion of museums - why do we have them, how do things get there, who are the people who are behind the things that we see in the glass cases? What happens to us when we are in the presence of relics? Objects and Memory depicts the transformation of ordinary items into vital sources of connection.

This film is crafted to speak to people 50, maybe 100 years from now, not just to those who lived through the experiences depicted. Most films, as good as they may be, are around for a few months and then disappear. Because Objects and Memory speaks to fundamental, ever-present human impulses, and because it stimulates discussion, it will provide perspective for those in the future seeking to find commonality with us and our times, and to understand their own. In conjunction with the distribution of the film, there will be an educational initiative to explore the issues raised.

Quotes from additional reviews may be found here.