OUT OF THE CLEAR BLUE SKY: Danielle Gardner lost her brother Doug, executive managing director of Cantor Fitzgerald and vice-chairman of eSpeed, when the Towers fell during 911. Her film is homage to Doug and all the 91 Cantor Fitzgerald victims and their families.
Adopting some of the expressionist bridging techniques of Erroll Morris though with less artistic results (the list of up and coming documentarians who owe Morris a debt is endless) Gardner tells a strong story.
Beginning with terrifying first person accounts from Cantor Fitzgerald, survivors, the film becomes a heart wrenching and riveting portrait of a company that literally rose form the ashes, in a heroic effort to regain it’s business.
The vagaries of destiny play out. CEO Howard Lutnik recalls taking his young son to school for his first day of kindergarden. He and his driver Jimmy Maio raced to the building, arriving in time to watch the towers collapse trapping all his workers on the top four floors of Tower One. In shock, unable to help, and with his brother Gary missing, he called the London Offices, all that remained of Cantor Fitzgerald, once the leading bond trader on Wall Street, then joined a conference call with Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns.
His competitors failed to mention the devastating tragedy and, with an eye to taking over Cantor’s market share, insisted on reopening the Bond Market in two days. Cantor execs Lutnik, Lee Amaitis and general counsel Steve Merkel resolved to stay the course.
First they created a crisis center and tried to figure out who had survived. Everyone in the offices that fateful morning were killed. 658 employees died. Cantor’s tragedy represented 24% of 9/11’s total casualties.
With a skeletal crew, working out of a warren of offices, they resolved to re-open their two major divisions, the bonds and securities trading. In essence they rebuilt their entire electronic trading operation from backup in London. Lee Amaitis and London officers David Buik, Shaun Lynn and tech wizard Philip Norton learned the American Bond Market by doing.
When Cantor traders appeared on the floor of the market, shocked colleagues cheered at their gumption.
Working in ill-lit offices, on borrowed old computers, relying on the London office for all archival materials, they wrote their trades on the back of napkins. Ironically major customers insisted on sending them all their business, which threatened to topple their fragile guerilla style operation.
Lutnick, who, as a college freshman was orphaned, with brother Gary and sister Edie, recalled receiving no help from his uncle or any family members, vowed to take care of his extended Cantor family.
Scenes of a crying, grief stricken Howard Lutnik played all the nightly news, creating a human face for a corporate disaster. Peter Jennings described Lutnick as “a personality, a personality this country will not forget, period.” Letters and charitable checks flowed in and Lutnik and sister Edie scrabbled to form a foundation, open a bank account and track the donations.
It was clear to Howard, transformed by the epic loss, that without a company he couldn’t help his now extended family, but he could hardly imagine the volatile journey he would make honoring that promise.
To reopen, Cantor was forced to take an egregious loan from Morgan Stanley, which threatened an immanent take over in a matter of days. Unable to explain any of this to the victims’ families, Lutnik made a triage decision. In order to build solvency and repay the loan, he suspended the paychecks of any missing, presumed dead employees. Whipped into frenzy by the media, angry family members denounced Lutnik. He was demonized.
Gardner tracks several other families: a man who lost daughters, a man who lost his twin brother, twin sisters who lost their father, the sister mother and wife of two missing brothers. Following their stories humanizes the public tribulations Howard Lutnick suffered, and happily for all, we share in the happier days in a community of Cantor families, forged in tragedy.
We watch ten years of ensuing memorials and the gratitude and caring flowing both ways from the Lutniks and their crew to the victim’s families.
Seen as a ruthless trader on the Street, the film reveals a new side to the man who stepped up to the plate and did the right things. He and his sister Edie formed the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, which gave and continues to give financial and psychological support to the victim’s families. Labor lawyer Edie became an activist, fighting with the city of New York for an appropriate 911 memorial.
The Fund eventually distributed $180 million to the families of the 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees who perished in the World Trade Center. Though not mentioned in the film, it expanded its activities provided assistance to families of victims from 14 companies in the World Trade Center and currently provides aid to victims of terrorism, natural disasters, and emergencies, including wounded members of the U.S. military.
KINGS POINT: Sari Gilman’s short documentary “Kings Point” follows the lives of five seniors living in the Kings Points retirement resort. Gilman shot since 2002 after a visit to her grandmother Ida, since passed on. The film is dedicated to her. In the 70’s the idea of moving from cold New York to sunny Florida was a dream comes true for retired couples. “This place was a boom… put down 1500 and you could be a condominium owner down here in Florida, my goodness. People lined up with checks in their hand, “Take my money.” and so beautiful!”
Independent Jane wouldn’t dream of living with a man again. “They don’t take care of you. They need someone to take care of them” she explains
Flirtatious Frank lives with his best woman friend Bea who cooks for him. But he’s still looking for a long term thing “‘I buried one wife I don’t want to put another one in a grave, I want someone to bury me. Bea explains” “Love comes in different forms, I guess, not just going to bed together.” The other widows debate whether they are just platonic.
Mollie, who moved to Kings Point with her husband, who died there, regrets that she ever left New York. For her nothing can take the place of kids and grandchildren. Of course, that’s not an easy option, Children and grandchildren are busy with their own lives, and moving back, there’s not enough time to make a new life.
As partners die off, there are more and more singles. At a half empty New Years Eve party, one remarks, “There was time when you couldn’t even get a table for New Years Eve, that’s sad.
Relationship are superficial, providing companionship for cards, dancing , mall shopping and klatches, but when anyone gets sick they keep it to them selves. As Gilman, who visited her grand mom Ida for almost 30 years explained in an LA Times interview “If you had your health, that kind of made you popular. And if you didn’t, people stopped coming by. I would hear people at the pool sort of whispering, ‘Oh, Ida — she’s going down.’
When Mollie went to the hospital, no one from Kings point visited. She left the hospital, went back to New York and died 2 weeks later. Three years later Frank died. Bea was at his side, Jane lived alone for 30 years and died at Kings Point. Gert still lives there.