“Vito After” is a sincere documentary about filmmaker Maria Pusateri’s brother-in-law, NYPD Detective Vito Friscia, who developed respiratory problems following his heroic work evacuating people from lower Manhattan on 9/11 and later sorting through the debris taken from Ground Zero to the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. The emotional trauma of those terrible days was bad enough, but the physical damage to Friscia’s lungs is more troubling. His wife noted his voice changed and he was bothered by a persistent cough. After much nagging from his wife and sister-in-law, he eventually agreed to undergo a medical examination which found severe sinusitis which could have evolved into a more damaging condition.
It is difficult to criticize “Vito After,” since Friscia is clearly a bona fide hero. Not only for his work during and after 9/11, but for nearly two decades of exemplary police work and for a genuine dedication to his community (he is a soccer coach for a girl’s team and the kids clearly idolize him – the scene of this big tough cop playing video games with the little girls is priceless).
But at the same time, Friscia is also the problem with the film. He is clearly uncomfortable to be on camera at many points through the film, which makes for awkward viewing. And some of his behavior is clearly questionable: he is initially stubborn in refusing a medical exam (he insists he will only see a doctor if his wife stops smoking), and when he goes to the examination he blatantly lies on the medical questionnaire (Pusateri, sitting next to him on camera, chastises him for his dishonesty). Friscia shrugs off his bad behavior by citing his Italian-American heritage and his law enforcement occupation – nothing like falling back on tired stereotypes to dignify dumb actions.
To its credit, “Vito After” raises concerns on the health of the NYPD rescue workers. This is crucial, since the media long since walked away from the story, the public forgot it, and the politicians don’t give a flying f**k about the real heroes of 9/11. In case anyone is paying attention, Osama bin Laden (of whom President Bush told the rescue workers at Ground Zero would be caught “dead or alive”) was never apprehended. And to date, no person in the U.S. government was ever reprimanded for the intelligence failings that allowed 9/11 to happen. It is nothing short of horrifying to realize that those responsible for 9/11 got away with mass murder, the U.S. government is doing nothing about it, and Friscia and his brave colleagues will face lifelong health problems as a result of this. To keep the true story of 9/11 alive, “Vito After” is perhaps the most important documentary of the year – and of every year that the bastards behind the 9/11 attacks remain at liberty.