If we are to believe their tweets and Yahoo searches, there are American teenagers out there who did not know who Osama bin Laden was. New York kids had no such luck. Brook Peters was an elementary-school student at P.S. 150 in Tribeca on September 11, and three years ago he decided to make a movie about the attacks—partly to commemorate the day’s events, and partly to decipher what he saw. The Second Day, a 38-minute documentary filmed mostly on a borrowed camcorder, had a special screening at the “Family Festival” portion of the Tribeca Film Festival last month. It opens with a photo of a tiny Peters wearing a shirt with a stretched-out collar. “This was my first full day of kindergarten,” he explains in voice-over. Next is an image of the burning towers. “This was my second.” His mom had come to the school to get him, and they were passing a block away from the World Trade Center when he saw the jumpers falling.
Today, Peters is “14-and-a-half-ish” and, ambitious extracurricular pursuits aside, has the routines of a pretty typical eighth-grader. After school, he walks home with some friends, drops his bag at the door, takes off his shoes, looks in the fridge, looks in the freezer, looks in the fridge again, finds a snack—“ideally a premade sandwich of some sort”—then starts his homework, then plays his video games. On this clammy afternoon in May, his postschool sustenance is a bowl of Campbell’s Sirloin Burger soup, which a freshly showered Peters eats in front of the living-room TV. His mother and producer, Michelle, caroms around the apartment with a load of laundry. It’s been a big two weeks for her son: screenings, interviews, a celebrity encounter (the Old Spice Guy), and, to top it off, statewide testing in school. It’s been so busy, in fact, that Peters ran out of socks and underwear and then Michelle ran out of quarters for the dryer and had to task him with hanging the damp clothes to dry in the bathroom.
There was also, of course, the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, which arrived when Peters was in his bedroom listening to music. His mother told him to come into the living room to watch the news. “I started calling my friends and saying, ‘Turn on the TV—it doesn’t matter what channel,’ ” he says. The bulletin made him feel “at rest, at first, and then fearful of retaliation.” Unattended bags on the subway still worry him; loud noises, too. “After you go through a terrorist attack,” he says, “you probably won’t ever stop looking for the signs.”
During the three years that Peters worked on the film, he didn’t have a computer capable of processing video, so he trekked up to the Bronx to edit footage at a borrowed workstation. When I say that it sounds like a lot of work, he shrugs. “I’ve always thought that the more that you learn now, the less you’ll have to do later in life. That way, you can just be more sage and wise.”
A few minutes later, Michelle walks into the room, carrying a gray package. Peters spots the item and auto-ejects from his chair.
“Oh, oh, oh-oh-oh!”
Inside the box is a brand-new MacBook with Final Cut Pro already installed—a gift from Guggenheim video productions. (Michelle, a single mom, asked a friend who works there for some post-production help for her son; after seeing The Second Day, the company also offered to give Peters a computer.) He hums a tune as he unboxes. “The guy said you have to be very careful opening it,” his mother reminds him.
“Oh my God, it’s huge. They got me the largest one out of everything!” He boots up, downloads iTunes, opens and closes Photo Booth, loads two tabs (Facebook and Minecraft), and doinks around with shortcuts. He examines the dust cloth—“Sweet, a free rag”—and reviews the AppleCare policy. Then he sneezes three times: allergies.
The machine will make it much easier to do his next film, which he tells me is a “sort of epilogue” to the first. It is about New York City firefighters, with whom he and Michelle have long been involved as volunteers; some of them, Peters says, have been father figures to him.
In the bathroom, Michelle discovers her son’s slapdash effort with the wet laundry, which hangs in a clump. “Brook, how are the clothes gonna dry if you put them all together?” she yelps.
“Slowly, I presume?”
“Now you sound like a cocky young man. So stop it.”
“I love you,” Peters teases. He tips his bowl and serenely inhales a sirloin chunk.