A unique take on 9/11, “Out of the Clear Blue Sky” registers the shock of the World Trade Center attacks as experienced by the bereaved families and survivors of one company, Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 employees overnight. Mainly focusing on Cantor’s CEO, Howard Lutnick, whose teary reaction made him first a favorite of the press and then its chosen villain, Danielle Gardner’s docu tracks the changing dynamics of the firm’s de facto family. With its dramatic arc and intimate closeups of devastation (Lutnick and Gardner both lost brothers on 9/11), pic could benefit from DocuWeeks exposure before smallscreen play.
The docu traces two interconnected throughlines: the impact of 9/11 on the day-to-day business of Cantor Fitzgerald, a major trader of U.S. bonds, and the changing relationship between Lutnick and the grieving families of his deceased employees. The total destruction of the North Tower’s top five floors wiped out nearly all of Cantor’s personnel housed there, with the rest left to find out if anyone had survived, on behalf of distraught loved ones who were fed contradictory information by the media.
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Yet the bond market reopened the day after the tragedy, leaving Cantor scrambling to either catch up — with little manpower and no computers or office — or to lose its clientele to the competition. Meanwhile, the business’s volume multiplied as sympathizers flocked to “help” the floundering firm by diverting trades its way, overwhelming the company’s limited resources. A huge loan from J.P. Morgan left Cantor vulnerable to a bank takeover, which was narrowly averted. The docu sketchily reconstructs these events as employees describe the action.
Lutnick publicly pledged to help the victims’ families. Cognizant of the firm’s fragility, however, he suspended the deceased workers’ paychecks; Gardner records his announcement and the angry reactions to it. Lutnick’s decision was immediately denounced by the media, which felt betrayed after having lionized him, and the CEO was vilified even more vigorously than he had been celebrated, as illustrated by news-report montages. But the docu continues its consideration of Cantor and Lutnick long after the media glare has subsided, and ultimately manages to chronicle a different side of the story.
Interspersed with Lutnick’s story are evolving interviews with grieving kith and kin — a man who lost his twin brother, a woman who lost two brothers (and the wife of one of them), a man who lost two daughters.
The novelty of helmer Gardner’s approach to 9/11, her insider’s look at the almost unimaginable difficulties faced by Cantor Fitzgerald in the weeks following the attack, and the abundance of coverage spanning 10 years of inhouse interactions more than compensate for the docu’s occasional unevenness.