Laura Beachy has spent the last two years trying to illustrate the lasting effects of the Flight 93 crash on residents in Somerset County -- a story line that often takes a natural backseat to profiles on the victims and their families, and goes untold.
But when asked how Sept. 11, 2001, changed her own life, the 22-year-old Somerset native and documentary filmmaker hesitates. She's never been asked before and she has to collect her thoughts.
"It's a complete loss of innocence, and at [age] 11 I heard the word Islamophobia and terrorist and al-Qaida, which you wouldn't usually think about," said Ms. Beachy, who was 10 miles from the site in her sixth-grade English class when the plane went down.
"As a kid you look to your adults in your community, people who are your safety providers, and no one had answers."
"We Were Quiet Once" tells the stories of three locals who witnessed their once-sleepy rural community's identity, and in some ways their own, upended when it was rocked by terrorists and then besieged by media crews 11 years ago.
Ms. Beachy's aim is to depict three personal memorials to the victims, and although it happened subconsciously, the film also has become a tribute in itself from her to the people of Somerset.
"Growing up in Somerset, it has became a foundation of what our town is and how we appropriate and memorialize something that is a national tragedy," she said. "What people sometimes forget about is what happens to the witnesses after a tragedy. The people have embraced this and try to do the best they can to build memorials. How does that affect their lives?"
A trailer for the film shows close-ups of Terry Butler's skin, which has evolved into a permanent tattooed tribute to the men and women on the plane he saw barreling over his head seconds before it smashed into the earth.
"I wish I could have helped somehow, you know, but I couldn't," said Mr. Butler. "I just stood there and watched it unfold."
Rick Flick, a volunteer firefighter and state organizer of an annual memorial motorcycle ride to Washington, D.C., recalls the helplessness he felt when he reached the scene. "There's nothing we can do," he said. "And that is a feeling ... I'll probably carry with me a long time."
The third character is the Rev. Alphonse Mascherino, a Catholic priest who founded a Flight 93 memorial chapel to honor the victims.
The documentary's title was taken from prose in a poem he wrote about the impacts of the tragedy on the region.
Ms. Beachy, director and executive producer of the film, said she dreamed of being a journalist as a child. When her hometown became a living memorial, she knew there were stories to tell.
She began seeking grants for the project in April 2010 as a student studying anthropology and television, radio and film at Syracuse University. Then she teamed up with fellow student Cory Sage, director of photography, and recently added a second Syracuse student, Ryan Balton, to supervise post-production.
A shorter version of the film became her thesis before she graduated as valedictorian of her class in May.
Now the crew is in the final stages of narrowing more than 1,000 hours of film into a 60-minute documentary.
Before they can submit the film to festivals in November, they need to raise an additional $6,000 to cover the cost of color correcting, sound mixing, distribution and public relations.
"We don't want to limit the ability to enter something because we don't have the funds," the director said. "That would be pointless at this point."
Ms. Beachy said home court advantage has helped her throughout the filming process, with locals more comfortable speaking to another local than a television news crew looking for a sound bite.
"I was received a lot more hospitably because they knew I wasn't going to try to show them in a certain light, that I wanted to tell their story," she said.
In turn, when she needed to hire additional help for the film, she sought out locals, like her music composer.
"We tried to make this a community-based project for southwestern Pennsylvania, and I want to continue that tradition and seek funding from people that are local," she said.
The crew is using a fundraising platform called Kickstarter, which requires groups to set a minimum goal and if it isn't reached, none of the donated funds will be awarded. Thus far the project has raised about $1,700 and needs at least $6,000 total by Oct. 20.
To view a trailer and learn more about the crew's fundraising campaign, go to www.wewerequietonce.com. Donations can also be sent by check to LEB Productions, 437 48th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11220.
Taryn Luna: email@example.com or 412-263-1985. First Published October 1, 2012 4:00 AM