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Rebirth, A Film by Jim Whitaker

REBIRTH – The Story of 9/11 Told Through the Lives of Five Survivors

| Sande Caplin |


On Saturday, September 19th at the Venice Performing Art Center, the Sarasota Film Festival will be screening the acclaimed documentary, REBIRTH. Directed by Jim Whitaker, the film tells the compelling story of September 11th by following the lives of five survivors, over the course of almost ten years, who were profoundly affected by that horrific day. But from their stories of anger and confusion, lessons of resilience and purpose emerge.   

The Sarasota Film Festival deliberately chose REBIRTH to acknowledge Sarasota County’s unfortunate connection to that day and to show the community fortitude through film. “We couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to remember the 2,977 people who perished on 9/11 and the heroes who continue to show us tremendous strength,” said SFF Director of Programming Michael Dunaway.

Two of the film’s subjects, Tim Brown and Tanya Villanueva Tepper, will be attending the screening. They will share their experiences of that day, as well as the stories of their work with Project Rebirth, an education-focused non-profit created after the film’s release. I had the chance to speak with both Tim and Tanya about their journeys since that fateful day.

Tim BrownTim Brown, a FDNY firefighter, was detailed into the Office of Emergency Management the morning of 9/11. Because of this, he was across the street from the Twin Towers in World Trade Center 7. Upon hearing the crash, Tim immediately ran to grab his helmet and jacket. By the time he reached the street, it was already reminiscent of a war zone. His best friend and boss, Terry Hatton, was the Captain of Rescue 1. As Terry left for the North Tower, he hugged Tim and told him, “this might be the last time I see you, brother. I love you.”

As Tim says in the film, in order to move forward, “I can’t live in that place, I want to live in this place.” He has turned his painful past into an opportunity to improve the futures of others. Tim now works with veterans through the non-profit organization, Ride 2 Recovery, a program that focuses on cycling as an alternative form of therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Tim saw that during their rides, veterans would begin to open up to him and by sharing his own story, it gave them hope that one day things will get better for them as well. Tim says that where grief enters people’s lives, sharing stories of resilience is extremely valuable.

Tanya Villaneuva Tepper lost her fiancé on 9/11. Sergio Villanueva was also a FDNY firefighter. That morning Tanya watched the news footage while Sergio should have been on his way home from work. For a split second when the first tower collapsed, she thought to herself that Sergio might be in the building, but she wouldn’t allow herself to think about it any longer than that. Later, when the firefighters called to ask if they could bring her over some food, she knew.

Tanya Villanueva TepperTanya signed on to the documentary to tell Sergio’s story, but after time went on she realized that she had to begin to tell her own story. Tanya started working with Camp Widow, a program that provides grief counseling tools and resources for widowed persons. Since then, Tanya has had multiple teachers reach out to her about students viewing REBIRTH in class. She now works with middle school and high school students regularly to discuss her journey from 9/11 widow to married mother of two.

Proceeds from the event will support SFF’s growing youth education and community outreach efforts. SFF is currently seeking underwriters so that Venice high school and middle school students, as well as local first responders and veterans can attend the screening for free. “The intent is to show this film to as many people in the Venice and the Sarasota community as possible and with the help of the community we can do that,” said Charlie Ann Syprett, SFF Director of Development.
For tickets and sponsorship information, contact Charlie Ann Syprett at (941) 350-1089 or or visit

Photos Courtesy of Project Rebirth

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