You Are Here - A Come From Away Story is an intimate feature documentary that goes deep into the community of Gander, Newfoundland where 38 airliners carrying over 6,500 passengers were forced to land after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The film pulls back the emotional layers surrounding the five days during which the community housed, fed and cared for the dislocated passengers (or the "come from aways" in Newfoundland parlance). While their stories were the inspiration for the extraordinary Broadway hit musical, Come From Away, the documentary, You Are Here, reveals first-hand accounts of the great kindnesses and energetic resourcefulness the community showed their unexpected guests. Their emotional and sometimes humorous story of compassion and generosity, born of a long history of rescuing and welcoming shipwrecked sailors, resonates with a legacy of healing and reconciliation for the world - especially for the survivors of those murdered on 9/11, and for the first responders who lost their own lives saving others on that fateful day.
With American airspace closed in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all US bound international flights already in the air had to be diverted, many of the Transatlantic flights going to Canada. Despite serving a town of only 9,000, thirty-eight of those flights, commercial jets, carrying 6,700 total passengers and crew landed in Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador. The airport was built to accommodate jets due to its geographic position as the easternmost point in North America to allow refueling if required. The story of the the meeting of these 9,000 (plus more from surrounding communities) and their 6,700 unexpected guests, most who wouldn't have known where Newfoundland and Labrador was let alone Gander, and all who probably would have chosen any other metropolitan airport to land at if they had known the situation, and their five to six day stay in the area before American airspace was once again opened, is told. In what was a tragic precipitating event, the Ganderites, in true Newfie fashion, stepped up to open their lives and homes in making their guests feel welcomed and loved in their time of need, they largely running on adrenaline in their exhaustion over those five/six days, with many of the 6,700 stating that they had a better time, despite the circumstance, than their just taken vacation or probably what would have been their upcoming vacation at their intended destination. The legacy of those five/six days are also told, from memorial events, to enduring friendships, a marriage between who were then strangers, and the genesis for what would be an award winning Broadway musical, "Come From Away".
- September 11th, 2001. Images of that day are forever etched into our collective consciousness. It was a day of shock and terror, the effects of which linger within our minds. And yet on that same day, on an island about 3,000 kilometers from Manhattan, in the middle of the Atlantic, the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland, gave voice to all that is good and generous within humanity - the central theme of our documentary.
The Gander story began when the U.S. airspace was completely shut down in the hours immediately following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. All civilian airliners within reach of the United States were ordered to land at the nearest airport. Thirty-eight of those planes landed at the Gander airport in Newfoundland. With no warning and with no time to prepare, a city with a population of only 9,000 played host for five long days to 6,500 frightened, exhausted and hungry passengers from around the world. This remarkable story was largely a footnote in the aftermath of the 9/11 but has now been brought to life in the most unexpected way possible: a live stage musical, titled "Come From Away". The show became one of the most talked about openings in the recent history of Broadway and generated a great deal of discussion about the need for compassion and unity in the midst of one of the most divisive periods in socio-political history.
Our feature documentary, "You Are Here - A Come From Away Story", travels deep within this unique story to emotionally bring forth the actual Newfoundlanders and passengers whose lives have inspired the celebrated musical. These include the mayor of Gander; the local cop; two community workers; an SPCA worker; two local TV reporters; and the mayor of Appleton, Newfoundland - all real people who worked tirelessly alongside countless others to comfort and care for their unexpected guests. Forming the fabric of characters within the film is also the "come from aways" (the passengers) who were looked after during those five unforgettable days in Gander. These include a couple who in a period of stress and anxiety met, fell in love and married in Gander; the pilot of an American Airlines Boeing 777 whose life was turned upside down; and a businessman who was so touched by his hosts' generosity that he went on to create Good Samaritan initiatives in cities like Austin, Texas.
"You Are Here" goes beyond the stories that are dramatized in the musical or reported in the news, to reveal how an isolated community, with a particularly unique culture and character, connected with the world at large by reaching out to people with extraordinary kindness at a time of great need. Those same efforts resonated with people far from Gander, especially the families of the helpers and first responders who died while helping others on 9/11. In so doing the film celebrates Newfoundland's generosity and compassion, all that it has inspired and the legacy it created.