The Post and Courier
'Telling Nicholas:' Personal tales of 9/11

May 10, 2002 • Charleston, SC

HBO has been highly touted for its original series such as "Sex and the City," "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under." Less publicized but of the same caliber is "America Undercover Sundays," HBO's documentary series. At this year's Academy Awards, "America Undercover Sundays" presentation of "Murder on a Sunday Morning" took home the Oscar for best documentary feature and throughout the years the "America Undercover" series has garnered 43 Emmys, 12 Oscars and 16 Peabody Awards.

May 19, "America Undercover Sundays" presents "Telling Nicholas" the story of two families with loved ones lost on September 11.

Filmmaker James Ronald Whitney was scouring missing posters for news of friends when two of the posters caught his eye. One was a photograph of Michele Lanza and her young son Nicholas. The poster was requesting information on a missing Michele. The other was of Shabbir Ahmed, a waiter at Windows on the World, whose wife and three children were seeking information on his whereabouts. Whitney filmed the two families as they struggled with the trauma and the emotions it wrought.

Lanza's estranged husband can't bring himself to explain to Nicholas that his mother won't be coming home. Meanwhile her sister and mother can't accept that she won't be coming home and both fall into ill health. Through it all Nicholas continues to believe that his mother is lost and will find her way home.

Ahmed's family is equally devastated. Eventually his son Thambir joins Whitney's production crew and befriends Nicholas Lanza. The boys' friendship is a light in this heartbreaking story.

"Telling Nicholas" is a poignant tale of how life shattering this disaster was to these two families. Not only are their stories touching and tragic but they are compounded by the fact that these are two of thousands of heart rendering tales.

Whitney's tale is told with sensitivity and caring and is a well-done behind-the-headlines look. "America Undercover Sundays" airs at 10 p.m. on HBO.

DIRECTOR'S FILMS: GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: New York, GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: Hollywood, Telling Nicholas, Just, Melvin,
Find out more about James Ronald Whitney's Productions at the Fire Island Films website
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© 2003 James Ronald Whitney