Film Reviews

Review: ‘You Are Here: A Come From Away Story’

Meet the people who inspired the hit musical


You Are Here: A Come From Away Story
(Canada, 84 min.)
Dir. Moze Mossanen

One doesn’t need to be able to afford exorbitantly priced theatre tickets to appreciate You Are Here. This Come From Away tale offers the stories behind the hit musical told by the people who inspired the characters. While audiences who have seen the musical might get more out of the documentary simply because they recognize the characters and stories, You Are Here also works as a primer for anyone who hasn’t seen Come From Away. It’s an inspiring film that will make audiences sing—and is clearly doing so with an audience award from Cinefest Sudbury under its belt along with record numbers on HBOCanada.

Director Moze Mossanen (My Piece of the City) explores the genesis of the Broadway musical and the outpouring of goodwill that arose from a moment of tragedy when 38 planes touched down in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The doc repeats the awful, shocking news footage of the Twin Towers collapsing over and over as Mossanen presents the stories of travelers who were stranded for five days following the turmoil of 9/11. You Are Here shows the worst of humanity as the buildings fall in New York City, but the doc also portrays the best of humanity in the stories from Gander. The travelers, or “come from aways,” as the people of Gander dubbed them, arrive from all over the world and express a universal sentiment of gratitude for the people of the small town who opened their arms to strangers.

You Are Here recounts some of the best stories from 6,500 people who survived the trauma of being in the sky on 9/11, as well as the 10,000 Newfoundlanders who came to their aid. Beverly Bass, an airline pilot, recalls the terror of being guided to this strange strip of no man’s land while hundreds of passengers clutched their seats in her care. Claude Elliot, then Mayor of Gander, similarly reflects upon feeling an overwhelming sense of duty and responsibility as the planes kept landing in his town, all but doubling Gander’s population with weary, terrified travelers.

You Are Here walks audiences through the stories of food and beds prepared for thousands while the come from aways sat stranded in their airplanes on the strip, unable to leave their vessels for security reasons and unsure of the terror that forced them to the ground. Elliot speaks jovially about seeing his neighbours welcome strangers into their homes. The come from aways, meanwhile, share memories of being comforted by bowls of moose stew that warmed their spirits and free Internet time that let them tell loved ones they were safe.

Beyond the neighbourly niceties that one might expect from folks in small town Canada — and the warmth of these Newfoundlanders will undoubtedly inspire a groundswell of pure Canadian pride — the doc finds tales of human connection that endure despite acts of terror. Take, for example, the story of a Gander priest who lodges several Russian travelers. He tells Mossanen how he and the Russian come from aways turned to their Bibles and used the numbers of familiar verses as reference points to convey messages. Similarly, Bonnie Harris of the Gander SPCA speaks to the well-being of the other many lives, those of the come from away pets that were saved when the airlines denied that any animals were on board the planes. The parade of cats, dogs, and bonobos rescued from the cargo bays offers another story of how deeply the people of Gander cared for the well-being of travelers in need.

One could go on about the amazing stories, and the film admittedly becomes a little repetitive as it recounts the many ways that people were charitable, but one appreciates why these tales resonate so strongly with audiences across North America. The final act of the film speaks to the development of Come From Away by honouring the people of Gander with a respectfully told story sung with the signature cadence and spirit of East Coast music. It will undoubtedly inspire many to go on a trip to see the musical, but even if one only experiences Come From Away in the documentary, You Are Here provides a cathartic reaffirmation of the forgotten art of human decency. Mossanen’s doc reflects upon a pivotal week that changed the world and, much like Morgan Neville’s uplifting Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, You Are Here reminds audiences that, in 2018, kindness might be the most quietly effective form of political activism. In a way, it’s the perfect film for the holidays.

You Are Here: A Come From Away Story plays at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema Dec. 16-30 and is available on demand.

Watch a trailer here.