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Alumna’s documentary to premiere at Tribeca Festival

A film made by an alumna that chronicles the journey of New Yorkers whose lives were touched by the events of September 11, 2001 will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival next Thursday (April 28). The feature-length documentary New York Says Thank You, produced by Megan Sleeper ’03, follows a group of New Yorkers as they travel the country helping others rebuild after disasters, an idea that evolved from a little boy’s wish.

For more than five years, Sleeper and producer-director Scott Rettberg followed a group of New Yorkers each September as they journeyed to communities struck by disaster, natural or man-made. During one such trip in 2009, more than 2,000 people rebuilt a chapel at Little Sioux Scout Ranch in Little Sioux, Iowa, where four Boy Scouts had lost their lives in a tornado.

boy scout admires chapel in the film new york says thank you by megan sleeper

A Boy Scout looking on at the chapel built at Little Sioux Boy Scout Ranch in Iowa by Boy Scouts, New York Firefighters, other 9/11 survivors, and volunteers on the 9/11 anniversary. The chapel honors the lives of four Boy Scouts killed by a tornado and is draped with the National 9/11 flag. This flag was destroyed at Ground Zero and is being stitched together by survivors, service heroes, and people from all 50 states of America. Photo by Brett Alpin.

“It was a very powerful experience,” said Sleeper. “We hope this film is inspirational. We want people to feel uplifted and moved toward helping others and getting involved. The story is really about what we can do for each other.”

The film centers on four New Yorkers: a playful firefighter from the Bronx, the stern yet sensitive construction superintendent of the Ground Zero cleanup effort, an Italian-American financial advisor and family man from Staten Island, and a young Irish Catholic firefighter whose first fire call was to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

new york firefighers march into the town of greensburg kansas

New York Firefighters marching into the town of Greensburg, KS, which was 95% destroyed by an EF-5 tornado, bringing both hope and healing as they prepare to rebuild a 4-H barn and community center for the town on the anniversary of 9/11. Photo by Sophia Litchfield.

Another key figure in the film is Jeff Parness, founder of the New York Says Thank You Foundation. In 2003, it was Parness’s then-5-year-old son, Evan, who originally convinced his family and neighbors to drive from New York to San Diego to deliver toys and other goods to families affected by wildfires.

The effort grew from 14 volunteers who were moved to help others—much the way that they saw others help New Yorkers in the wake of September 11—to a much larger movement. Every year, the New York Says Thank You Foundation is joined by more volunteers from New York and throughout the country.

The score for New York Says Thank You was created by Emmy-winning composer Mike Post. The executive producers are Jeffrey Stewart and Jonathan Tisch of Walnut Hill Media.

The film will be shown at Tribeca on Thursday, April 28, at 9:30 pm and again on Saturday, April 30, at 12:00 pm.

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