A town called Gander
Broadway-based film Come From Away tells the little-known story of a Canadian town that welcomed stranded air travelers on 9/11
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Come From Away, streaming from Apple TV, is a filmed version of the Tony-winning musical that tells the remarkable true story of a 9/11 emergency operation in Gander, Newfoundland. Twenty years ago, the people of Gander welcomed to their town 38 diverted planes and nearly 7,000 passengers and crew. Lying between Europe and the United States, Gander International Airport is an emergency landing location and became part of Canada’s Operation Yellow Ribbon on Sept. 11, 2001.
It’s strange to imagine singing in a 9/11 story—until you see it actually works. Lyrics are clear, even with the purposefully strong Canadian accents and phrases like “come from aways”—what Newfies call people not from the island. The fast-paced tale is full of mostly endearing characters who bend over backward to help, opening hearts and homes to stranded air travelers for five days following the terror attacks.
Stage scenes change rapidly, drawing the audience into the frenzy: We feel the stress of passengers, some of whom sat in planes on a runway for 30 hours, unsure of what had happened on American soil. The townspeople offer quick-thinking solutions, opening homes, churches, gyms, and hotel rooms to shelter passengers. Residents donate diapers, medicine, clothes, and toiletries and cook up a storm of casseroles.
Viewers get caught up in the personal stories—like Hannah who’s longing to hear from her firefighter son in New York City, and the nervous foreigners who speak no English but understand when a Newfie points to Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing.” We wonder if the relationship between the London executive and Texas divorcée, seated next to each other on a plane, will blossom.
We smile when one man, worried a stranger would steal his wallet in Gander, learns to trust. In answer to his dad’s question of whether he was OK in Newfoundland, he thinks aloud, “How do I tell him I wasn’t just OK, I was better?”
The film, rated TV-14, does have some drawbacks. One subplot follows a gay couple and the way the town affirms their lifestyle. The story also includes salty language that makes it unsuitable for younger viewers.
It’s a shame, because Come From Away can help us remember both the horror and grace of that heart-wrenching day. It’s emotional watching stranded passengers try to reach loved ones by phone. It’s hard to hear suspicions over whether any passengers disembarking in Gander might be security risks. And ever-looming are the deaths of almost 3,000 Americans by terrorists.
But Come From Away ultimately reminds us even the darkest days can provide reasons to sing.
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