Rebirth follows five New Yorkers who discuss the events of 9/11 and the World Trade Center as a site of shared trauma, exploring the emotional, spiritual, mental and physical repercussions that day left on all of us.
Interwoven with the annual interviews is on-site time lapse photography -- paired with an ethereal score by Philip Glass -- that shows how the Twin Towers' rubble is removed and new structures are built in the same space.
As the rebuild moves forward, interviewees tell how they are coping with the emotional toll of the attacks.
To get his footage, Whitaker strapped 14 cameras to various locations in lower Manhattan that would snap a still of the site's recovery every five minutes, every day, for the duration of his interviews.
The result is stunning animation of seasons changing and time moving on as construction workers execute the One World Trade Center project, to be unveiled in January 2013.
No less stunning are the annual interviews. I was always aware of how each of the subjects was evolving, Whitaker has said. It was around the fourth or fifth year that I saw each one of them making some kind of small, medium or large leap forward toward something. There was a new feeling, a settling of emotions.
Take Tanya, an instantly lovable firefighter's fiance who lost her soul mate in the midst of planning for their wedding and life together. We see her envy toward other women whose lives move forward with ease while she feels stuck mourning the life she lost.
We also see her moments of sanctuary -- riding her motorcycle or escaping to Miami -- that allow her some space to heal.
Then there's Ling, a Chinese mother of three who was able to escape from her workplace on the 78th floor of the North tower when the first plane hit. Ling physically embodies the trauma of 9/11 as she goes through years of medical rehabilitation to address the second- and third-degree burns she received on-impact.
Her scars mirror the emotional scarring of director Jim Whitaker's subjects, but as the only interviewee present at the towers during the attacks, her bruised but resilient spirit reflects a deep appreciation for her survival.
I always had a feeling that no matter how difficult things were, no matter what our subjects were going through at that time ... that there would come down the road a return to life and the joy of moving forward, said Whitaker.
The documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2011. Theatrical releases are scheduled across the country, including a one-week exclusive engagement at the Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles beginning Friday.
Whitaker also founded Project Rebirth, stemming from the feature-length documentary, which is dedicated to honoring victims and their loved one's stories.