Carrboro documentary filmmaker Rebecca Cerese was driving on the I-395 in Washington, D.C., with her parents and her brother when she decided that something was amiss with the official Sept. 11 narrative. “We passed the Pentagon, and I suddenly realized that we never see images of the Pentagon being hit. Instead, we see the towers, over and over and over.”

We’re sitting in Caribou Coffee at the corner of Estes and Franklin, on a Friday morning. The heat wave has broken, and the weather is clear and within shouting distance of cool.

Cerese is a 32-year-old Chapel Hill native and UNC grad. She eventually found her way to the 9/11 Truth movement, a growing number of Americans who are bonding around Web sites and films like Loose Change and 911 In Plane Sight. Lately, Cerese has been making public presentations. Last Tuesday at the Durham County Public Library, 100 people turned out to see her two-hour illustrated lecture in which she underlined the key unanswered questions that have preoccupied the skeptics.

Although the 9/11 skeptics scrutinize every aspect of that long day, there are a few key objects of study: Just what was it that hit the Pentagon? (The skeptics are certain it was not American Airlines Flight 77.) And why did the towers in New York fall–especially WTC 7, a 42-story building which was not hit by a plane yet crumpled to the ground at 5:20 p.m. on Sept. 11?

Skepticism of the official 9/11 narrative has yet to receive much mainstream respect. In a country inured to Roswell aliens, Elvis sightings and 40 years of fruitless speculation about JFK, Oswald and the grassy knoll, the 9/11 Truth movement has to contend with condescension, ridicule and snarky references to tinfoil hats and conspiracy theories. Very few lefty stalwarts have conspicuously embraced alternative 9/11 narratives, and their caution is entirely understandable; if someone like, say, George Clooney were to support an examination of common assumptions, it would send him on a glide path to oblivion and ridicule.

Still, that respect may be coming. Cerese was delighted to see a respectful profile in the current Vanity Fair of the three young filmmakers behind the documentary Loose Change, which iswildly popular on the Internet. And the night before our meeting, word began to spread online that Daniel Ellsberg, the hero of another era who leaked the Pentagon Papers, has given his blessing to the exertions of the 9/11 Truth movement. Speaking on an obscure Austin, Texas, radio show, Ellsberg said, “Is the administration capable–humanly and physiologically–of engineering such a provocation? Yes, I would say that. I worked for such an administration myself.”

Sept. 11 skeptics are scornful of the recent movie United 93, which one speaker at the Durham library event called “pro-government propaganda.” (Many who were impressed by Paul Greengrass’ film, however, were struck by its portrait of overmatched individuals struggling within the confines of lumbering bureaucracies and convoluted chains of command.) Coming soon is World Trade Center, a movie that is being marketed as an uplifting experience. But given that the director is Oliver Stone, it is entirely possible that the film will offer an overtly skeptical take on the day’s events.

For Cerese, immersion in the dark waters of conspiracies and skullduggery required a risky leap from the safer political position of her professional work. The irony is that when she had her Road to Damascus moment on the I-395 expressway, she was returning from a triumphant appearance at that most sedate monument to America’s official history: the Smithsonian. Cerese was there to present February One, the award-winning PBS title that recounted the momentous Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins of 1960. Two members of the Greensboro Four were with her at the Smithsonian, people regarded as pariahs long ago who today are considered American heroes.

It’s a long trip, however, from working with a history where the facts have been settled and the museum doors are now open, to the gaping, smoldering abyss of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Cerese’s presentation and expertise now includes knowledge of how controlled building demolitions are carried out, including the types of explosives that will cut steel building cores. She’s conversant on the topic of standard operating procedures for air traffic controllers who suspect a hijacking, and the 57 first responders to the World Trade Center site who have since died of respiratory illnesses. She explains the extraordinary corkscrew approach that presumed Flight 77 pilot Hani Hanjour–who’d struggled with a Cessna 172 in flight school–would have had to follow in order to achieve his direct hit on the Pentagon at 500 mph.

Does she really believe the worst, that certain top officials in this country are capable of attacking their own country? Cerese tries not to commit herself to speculation. “That’s what people can’t get their mind around,” she acknowledges. “But there are people in deep undercover operations who do this kind of thing. Look at the Nazis and the Reichstag fire. They’ve shown over and over that they have no use for human life unless they’re the lives of rich people. Look at Katrina. Look at how they treat soldiers by sending them into battle without proper armor, without even enough water.”

What about those who suggest that spending energy on a potential 9/11 coverup is a diversion from the all-important task of winning upcoming elections? “I get that all the time,” Cerese says with a smile. “9/11 is the issue. They use it as an excuse for everything. In order to get our country back on track, we have to know what happened.”

Keep up with Rebecca Cerese’s 9/11 Truth activities at

Wanted: Home Movies

The 2006 Home Movie Day will take place this year on Aug. 12. This is a nationwide event that encourages people to bring in their home movies, whether they were shot on 8 mm, Super 8, 16 mm or even another film format. John Waters and Martin Scorsese, two disparate but oddly compatible filmmakers with a taste for browsing the archives, have given their blessing to this event.

The local sites this year are on the campuses of N.C. State and Duke University.

Those who live in Raleigh should head to Room G107 in the basement of Caldwell Hall between 1 and 4 p.m. For more information about this venue, contact N.C. State film professor Marsha Orgeron at or AV Geeks boss Skip Elsheimer at

In Durham, you should take your home movies to the Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library in Perkins. The contact here is Karen Glynn at

For more information about Home Movie Day, go online to