Several times during his thirty-one years, David Harlow Rice told his mother that he had always felt he was going to live a short life. That life, which ended on September 11, 2001, is the subject of Rachel Zabar's new documentary, One Life. A New York CityÐbased filmmaker, Zabar describes Rice as "the brother of my best friend and someone who reached out to me during a difficult time in my own life." After his death, she says, "I came to a new understanding of the extent to which his life touched so many others and how the loss of one life can affect so many."
Zabar's documentary is part of Visions from Ground Zero, a series of nine short films to be aired on the Showtime cable network as part of its anniversary commemoration of September 11. One Life was the grand-prize winner in a contest for students and alumni of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts graduate film program; entries - there were 200 of them - had to focus on the impact of 9/11. (Zabar is a graduate student at the Tisch School.) She made the film with a grant from Deutsche Bank and the help of a host of Brown alumni, including Alexandra Shapiro '94, Marian Belgray '95, Kippy Joseph '94, Clay Walker '92, Matthew Shapiro '88, Suzanne Immerman '94, David Ronick '89, and Gordon Myers '99.
Although only twenty minutes long, One Life is a powerful, heartfelt tribute to a single victim of the tragedy. Like the New York Times's award-winning series "Portraits of Grief," it seeks to filter the often incomprehensibly epic proportions of the events of 9/11 through the narrative of one individual. Filmed over the course of two weeks in Oklahoma City, Rice's hometown, and in New York, his adopted city, One Life uses interviews with parents, siblings, and friends to show how he went from being a rambunctious child to a drug- and alcohol-abusing teenager, and from a Loyola University graduate and Fulbright scholar studying in Zimbabwe and South Africa to a student at the London School of Economics. The film traces his path all the way to his position as a bond trader at the investment firm Sandler O'Neill & Partners, whose offices were on the 104th floor of Two World Trade Center. What emerges is the outsize personality of a born entrepreneur. Zabar is particularly good at teasing out a host of revealing details: the boy who sold smiley-faced T-shirts emblazoned dave; the meticulous collector of Richie Rich comic books; the adult who quietly served as mentor and friend to so many people, one of whom greets Rice's mother at his memorial by saying, "Your son saved my life."
Composed of a mix of interviews, home-movie footage, scenes from ground zero, and roving landscape shots, One Life is both vivid and stark, touching and down-to-earth. "He was prepared to die," his mother, Cindy, explains. But his friends and relatives weren't prepared to lose him. Their efforts to grapple with their loss will resonate with viewers struggling to find their own sense of meaning in the aftermath of that tragic day.
Pamela Paul is a senior editor at American Demographics in New York City and the author of The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony (Villard, 2002).