Overview: MARATHON: THE PATRIOTS DAY BOMBING recounts the dramatic story of the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks (April 5, 2013) through the emotional experiences of individuals whose lives were forever changed by them. Ranging from the events of the day to the death-penalty sentencing of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the documentary features surveillance footage, news clips, home movies and exclusive interviews with survivors and their families, as well as first responders, investigators, government officials and reporters from the Boston Globe, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage.
In the wake of a heinous act of terrorism, newlywed couple, Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, mother Celeste Corcoran and her daughter Sydney, and the Norden brothers Paul and JP — all gravely injured by the blast — face the enormous challenges of physical and emotional recovery, over the course of three years, as they and their families strive to reclaim their lives and community.
Directed by Emmy nominees Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (HBO’s BURMA SOLDIER), and produced in association with the Boston Globe, this feature documentary goes behind the scenes of the survivors’ painful, often-frustrating rehabilitation, juxtaposing these stories with efforts of the police and FBI to identify and hunt down the perpetrators.
Expectations: The following expectations are solely based upon watching the trailer. It appears to be a story mostly about the survivors of that attack and how the city of Boston faced that day. Its tone seems quite different from the CHARLIE HEBDO film from earlier. This one certainly seems to be a very heartfelt story and that will be okay.
Gut Reaction: First off I was flummoxed to learn and surprised that I never knew, that there was a conspiracy theory out there that the bombing was a hoax! WTF…just saying. There are a number of angles a film about the Boston Bombing could have taken, but this film ends up presenting it with a patriotic, Boston Strong vibe and does so to good effect.
In 3 DAYS OF TERROR: THE CHARLIE HEBDO ATTACKS doc from September we got a detailed factual account of the terrorist attack interjected by powerful testimony of witnesses & hostages. MARATHON turns the story around and focuses on the victims and the city’s response to the attack and adds enough of the facts to complete the two-hour film. It does end up defining the crime scene, speculation, shootout and manhunt, but the families dealing with loss of limbs and post-stress issues are what matters here. The lives of innocent bystanders Jessica, Patrick, Celeste, Sydney, Paul, JP and their families are one of those heartfelt reports that prove that human resolve and endurance wins over any terrorist action in the end. These stories will move you as we graphically relive that day, their long hospital stays and their adaptation through rehabilitation and healing.
The road is not easy for those showcased here. While Patrick lost a leg he seems to rebound a lot quicker than his wife Jessica, who lost both lower limbs. Celeste and Sydney, a mother & daughter struggle one “step” at a time to get success, but their husband/father caves into mental stresses and brothers Paul & JP were both in critical conditions in two separate hospitals adding stress to mother Celeste. Together in their own way and in their own time they rally. It is all a great human interest story taking this film beyond just stating the facts of the crime.
Bonus: JP Norden, Celeste Corcoran, and her daughter Sydney — all survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 — joined directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg at the Doc NYC screening to share their thoughts on the experience of making MARATHON: THE PATRIOT DAY BOMBING.
Stern responded to a question about choosing which families to highlight in the documentary: “We researched a lot of families through the Boston Globe – it was important for us to pick three families that represented the bigger picture, and it wasn’t just the visible scars but the invisible wounds … We wanted to try as best as possible to represent all the stories, because there are so may survivor stories and we couldn’t tell all of them.”
Norden, who was joined on the panel by his mother Liz, shared what inspired him to agree to be a part of the film: “The bombers were always going to be remembered, but the survivors get forgotten in a way. … I was a little skeptical … but tonight seeing this film for the first time I’m proud to be a part of it.”
The film was put together from personal interviews, as well as video and surveillance footage and photography. Stern commented on mining the content: “Because we started this film when the trial began, a lot of material that had been previously classified was then released to the public because it was used as evidence. We were basically getting all of the material as it was coming out … But then obviously the Boston Globe had tremendous archive, their video and photography staff had spent a tremendous amount of time covering this.”
Annie Sundberg explained: “The Marathon footage that was uncut, we saw online. It was filmed by a Boston Globe reporter, and it was the impact of watching it uncut versus this sanitizing that the news does that really struck us.”
Celeste Corcoran, who lost both legs in the attacks, spoke about signing on to do the film and seeing it put together: “We had done a lot of press, and there were a lot of press outlets that, frankly, I thought we had been burned by, so to be asked to do something like this was very scary… I remember asking, ‘If there’s something we don’t like, can we say we want to keep it out?’’ and they said, ‘Nope.’ I am extremely proud of the finished product. … Hearing somebody say something is so different than seeing it on film. It’s so important that people see what terrorism is and that it needs to be stopped.”
Corcoran’s daughter, Sydney, who was 18 at the time of the bombing, also suffered severe wounds from the explosions. She commented on the difference between making the documentary versus doing other interviews: “Eventually it became really cathartic; this film wasn’t like any other interview we had done … they’re looking for you to say, ‘Everything’s better now and it’s all good,’ and that’s not really how it goes. With Annie and Ricki it was real, it was raw, whenever the cameras were on it felt like they were getting everything. It was very honest; they were just getting the whole process. … It really showed what happened.”
In Conclusion: I love the comment above that says that the perpetrators will be remembered for their crime, but the victims will not. This documentary thankfully changes all that…just saying. This documentary is available on HBO GO and HBO NOW.
Next: All eyes are on Cuba again as HBO presents two from the island country. PATRIA O MUERTE: CUBA, FATHERLAND OR DEATH and MARIELA CASTRO’S MARCH: CUBA’S LGBT REVOLUTION debut back-to-back on November 28 beginning at 8:00pm.