Paying It Forward After 9/11 in New York Says Thank You


Founded in 2003, its inception sparked by a five-year-old’s comment, the New York Says Thank You Foundation, was started by Jeff Parness—that five-year-old’s dad—as a way for New Yorkers to give back to the rest of America for the generosity shown the city after 9/11. The organization takes Big Apple volunteers (firemen, construction workers, ordinary citizens) to areas across the country where disasters have hit (tornadoes, hurricanes), to spearhead the rebuilding of homes, community centers, churches, etc. It’s a noble undertaking, and as director Scott Rettberg follows the NYSTY team on its missions, he captures ordinary folks grieving not just the loss of property, but the deaths of loved ones. It’s often very moving. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that it’s an infomercial—from the glossy look (crisp images of talking heads filmed against backdrops of blue skies and waving fields of green) to Rettberg’s easy acceptance of everything said; nothing is challenged, no questions are asked. More troubling is the way the filmmaker and his subjects collude to define patriotism as flag waving and bible-thumping, and present real Americans (including melting-pot New York) as white, heterosexual and Christian. Token inclusions of one Black guy and a Mennonite only underscore the limited notion of America being sold.