Film About the Physical, Emotional & Spirtual Price Paid by 9/11 Responders to Screen in July

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"Vito After," a documentary film, tells the story of one NYPD Detective. What price has he and others paid for their bravery and commitment?

"Vito After," a film about Vito Friscia — one of the 40,000 rescue and recovery workers whose physical, emotional and spiritual health has been affected by 9/11 and its aftermath — will screen in July. The film will screen on July 18th, 7:00 pm at the Long Island International Film Expo (Bellmore Movies, 222 Petit Avenue in Bellmore, NY) and on July 27th at 7:30 pm at Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Avenue, Huntington, NY.

This is an “…intriguing…powerful debut documentary,” says Stu Van Airsdale, The Reeler/indieWire. “…Pusateri applies an essential personal touch to an issue that has ‘news scoop’ written all over it.”

Daily headlines have made it clear that 9/11 responders, exposed to innumerable toxins both on the day of the terrorists attack and during the recovery effort, have paid a price — including chronic respiratory illnesses. The first official fatality was a NYPD detective, a 34-old-widower with a four-year-old child. His autopsy linked his death from pulmonary disease and respiratory failure to toxic exposure during the 9/11 recovery.

Vito Friscia was only a block away — on his way to join the rescue efforts — when the second tower collapsed. He was engulfed in the treacherous cloud that followed. In the chaotic aftermath, he helped thousands leave the city.

Vito was one of 7,000 NYPD detectives who were the last to go through the debris, searching for signs of loved ones in the hopes of bringing closure to victims’ families. Their intense work exposed them to toxic substances in the rubble and dust.

The film follows Vito for two years, beginning in April 2002, interweaving interviews, recollections and vérité scenes as he mourns, tries to cope, deals with denial and struggles with health problems. It shows him with family, friends and at a poignant gathering with his detective brothers where the men cope with the horrific tragedy by recalling their experiences with humor

When Vito suffers lingering sinus ailments, congestion, cough and shortness of breath when exercising, he ignores it — just like many of his fellow detectives. However, his family convinces him to get a medical evaluation. The film follows him as he goes to the WTC Worker & Volunteer Medical Screening Program at Mt. Sinai Hospital, where he finds out why he can’t get back to normal. His health compromised, the possibility of serious disease in the future, Vito still has no regrets.

Director Maria Pusateri is Vito Friscia’s sister-in-law. Witnessing Vito’s trauma and health issues impelled her to tell his story, so she could make others aware of the problems faced by 9/11 rescue and recovery workers.

Pusateri was a field producer for Metro Channel’s Unblinking Eye, creating 40 cultural arts shows covering literary, music and film events in New York City. Her work netted four Communicator Awards, two OMNI Awards and an Emmy nomination. She also did a short piece after 9/11, in which she interviewed people at the center of memorial activity at Union Square soon after the attacks.

“'Vito After' is Maria Pusateri's seamless look at the post-9/11 troubles of an NYPD detective,” says Susan Green, Seven Days. “Serious health problems now plague many of these public servants. Pusateri observes universal truths through the struggle of one individual, and accomplishes this task with sensitivity and, surprisingly, a few good laughs."

9/11 Responders & Their Health

Workers were exposed to an unprecedented toxic cocktail, including such carcinogens as asbestos, lead, chromium, mercury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides and polychlorinated furans and dioxins.

Reported WTC-related illnesses include chronic sinus and lung disease such as sinusitis, asthma and sarcoidosis; gastrointestinal reflux; heart conditions; cancers of the throat, esophagus, lung, kidney, brain, pancreas and thyroid; and, AML – a rare leukemia caused by exposures to benzene found in jet fuel.

The World Trade Center medical screening program at Mt. Sinai has screened almost 16,000 responders to-date. Sample findings indicate that:

         50 percent suffer persistent upper respiratory ailments

         40 percent suffer persistent lower respiratory ailments

         51 percent showed symptoms of psychological distress

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Leslie J. Yerman
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