Howard Lutnick did not lose his life on Sept. 11, 2001 because he took his son to school. The Cantor Fitzgerald CEO raced to the scene of the terrorist attack and, during the collapse, he struggled to breathe, thinking he might die.
He survived, but 658 of his employees, including his brother, died.
In her documentary “Out of the Clear Blue Sky,” which is showing at the Regal Union Square, Danielle Gardner shows the emotional toll the attack took on Lutnick, who sobbed when he was interviewed on CBS, NBC and ABC. Lutnick borrowed millions and was able to have the company up and running two days after the attack, thereby saving the investment firm.
Hailed as a hero, he was later lambasted by the press after he cut the salaries of the workers who were killed. He would get death threats via e-mail.
The film shows the anger of family members who met with Lutnick on numerous occasions, but eventually saw that he would make it his mission to help them; he would eventually pay out $180 million and pay for health insurance for victims’ families for 10 years.
We see Lutnick’s horror as well as images of headstones from Jewish cemeteries. We see workers talking about how they had to decide which funeral to go to. It’s hard to keep your eyes dry when we see a woman talk about how she vomited every day immediately after the attacks, another who could not take a shower by herself because she was too scared, and yet another who tried to bargain with God for the safe return of her relatives.
You can’t help but sympathize with Lutnick, who didn’t buckle under the emotional strain. The documentary shows how he had to learn to deal with tragedy at a young age: first his mother died, and then his father succumbed suddenly after an injection as part of his cancer treatment.
Lutnick talks of the cynicism of executives of the other powerful firms who he says didn’t even offer condolences on a conference call on Sept. 12, and suggests that people who saw him as cutthroat likely reveled in the opportunity to take advantage of the situation for financial gain.
Gardner succeeds in painting a picture of grieving people trying to find ways to cope and to live lives that would honor the memory of their lost loved ones. One victim’s family member recounts how someone thought it was cool to meet him because he had never met a relative of someone who died in the attacks of 9/11. For all of Lutnick’s efforts, perhaps it is ironic that the company’s name would not be allowed on the stone where the names were engraved as part of the 9/11 Memorial.
Of all the films and stories about 9/11, the story of Cantor Fitzgerald is underrepresented. “Out of The Clear Blue Sky” shows just how tough the human spirit can be in an unthinkable situation.
“Out of the Clear Blue Sky” is laying at The Regal Union Square in New York City through Sept. 19.