Ken Tucker
September 09, 2011 AT 12:00 PM EDT

9/11: The Days After is a remarkable documentary airing on the History channel twice tonight, and will be repeated on September 11. Doing away with narration, it offers up a collection of footage filmed in the immediate wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — footage shot by amateurs, and unedited film taken by TV news crews. Director-producers Seth Skundrick and Nicole Rittenmeyer have added immeasurably to the chronicle of this period of history.

The contrast between the raw, often unprofessional quality of the footage and the filmmakers’ artful editing of their material creates its own tension. There’s not a moment of false drama here. We see so many people volunteering to help — people donating blood, hammering together wooden pallets that will serve as stretchers for the wounded or the dead; parents hurrying to schools to fetch their children and unguarded moments when police and firefighters try to organize rescue efforts, to impose some sense in a world gone senseless, and simply stop and cry.

In the absence of narration, we hear messages left on answering machines and cell phones; calls to radio talk shows that speak hate toward Muslims one moment, and, at other times, callers tell the tales of bravery and sacrifice they have witnessed. We catch bits of conversation and declarations that, while seemingly random, cohere to tell a story: “It’s no longer a rescue effort, it’s a job site.” “Found a body — got a body here!” “Daddy, is the Empire State Building still here?”

For anyone who wasn’t in Manhattan during that awful period, 9/11: The Days After is an amazingly vivid portrait of what the city was like: in shock, in mourning, in fear, in sadness, in anger, in despair, in hope.

If you didn’t see 9/11: The Days After on the History channel on Friday night, try to catch it when it airs again on Saturday at 1 a.m. and Sunday night, 6:30 p.m., EST.

Twitter: @kentucker

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