Love can overcome hate: Film explores paths to recovery after terror attacks

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the media will be filled with solemn tributes to those who died in the 2001 attacks at the World Trade Center.

But for local documentary filmmakers Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, the occasion offers a chance to showcase something few have seen: the positive, life-affirming changes that can come out of tragedy.

Filmmaker Dana Nachman

“Love Hate Love” is a feature-length film that explores the lives of three families affected by terrorism: a couple who lost a child on 9/11, a woman whose sister died in the London “7/7” transit bombings of 2005, and an Australian man who lost both legs in a 2002 car bombing in Bali.

Each narrative honors the human ability to turn tragedy into a force for good. Sean Penn is executive producer. The film debuted in May at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and will screen Thursday, Sept. 8 at the JCC of San Francisco. A discussion with Nachman, moderated by Abby Porth of the Jewish Community Relations Council, will follow.

“The first documentary I ever made was for the one-year anniversary of 9/11,” explains Nachman, a Jewish television journalist who worked for many years as a producer at the Bay Area’s NBC affiliate. Through their work on that film, she and filmmaking partner Hardy became good friends with Jack Grandcolas, a San Rafael resident who lost his wife on United Flight 93.

“Because of that, we started thinking about all the good things that can come from the bad,” said Nachman. “All the great people we met through him, all the places we were put because of knowing him — that none of that would have happened had his wife not died on 9/11. It was the first time that concept really hit me over the head.”

Bolstered by the idea of making a documentary that reflected that spirit, the San Francisco-based filmmaking team set out to find families who had channeled their grief into positive ventures.

Liz Alderman, who lost her youngest son, Peter, on Sept. 11, 2001, is featured in “Love Hate Love.”

Liz and Steve Alderman, whose son Peter was 25 and attending a conference at the World Trade Center when he died on 9/11, went above and beyond what the filmmaking team had expected to find.

In the depths of the parents’ despair and facing two options — as Liz says in the film, “you can either kill yourself, or you can put one foot in front of the other” — the couple founded a nonprofit to help doctors and caregivers treat local victims coping with the stress of war zones, mass violence and terrorism trauma.

The Peter C. Alderman Foundation, created in 2003 with several partners — including the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, Partners in Health and the African Regional Trauma Workshop — has trained or conducted workshops for more than 1,000 doctors and mental health workers from 22 countries, including Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Uganda. The organization also operates 10 mental health clinics in Cambodia, Uganda, Rwanda and Haiti.

Nachman said she connected personally and instantly with the Aldermans.

“I grew up 15 minutes from where they lived [in New York],” she said. “I’m Jewish, they’re Jewish. Really, we could have been family; it was like we had known each other for a lifetime.” As a mother of (then) two young children, Nachman was moved by the love they had for their son and their extraordinary strength in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

“Love Hate Love”

The other families involved impressed the filmmakers in myriad ways. Esther Hyman, whose sister Miriam was killed on a bus in London, launched a school program to teach British children the values of citizenship and nonviolence. Using donations and compensation from the attack, her family also established the Miriam Hyman Memorial Trust, a registered U.K. charity. It funds an eye hospital in India that has treated more than 20,000 people since it opened in 2008.

Ben Tullipan, who was given a 5 percent chance of survival after being severely injured in a 2002 Bali car bombing that killed 202 people, now lives a full life — including volunteering and mentoring — with two prosthetic legs.

In 2008, he was named Gold Coast Citizen of the Year for his commitment to the Zero to One Foundation, a nonprofit that supports victims of terrorism, their families and dependents. The Australian foundation also supports victims of natural disasters and has been involved in the reconstruction effort since the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia.

“We didn’t really set out for it to work like this, but when you watch, you see there are all these different ways to have an impact — small, medium and large,” said Nachman. “Maybe people will think ‘Oh, I could never do what the Aldermans are doing, but maybe I could be a little bit like Ben.’ ”

Nachman added that she was delighted, but not exactly surprised, by the range of groups from all faiths that have expressed interest in the film.

“There’s nothing about any of these people that’s necessarily religious, and there isn’t an overt religious discussion in this film, but there is absolutely an inspirational, spiritual element to it,” she said.

Aside from the joy of seeing the film debut to a crowd of 1,000 in New York, Nachman said it was a wonderful surprise to see the families come together for the premiere; she hears that Esther Hyman and the Aldermans have been keeping in regular touch ever since by email.

Ideally, said Nachman, the film will serve to celebrate the lives of the victims — and inspire others looking to find hope after a tragedy.

“I hope it makes people realize that we can go through these kinds of horrors and still make the world a better place,” she said. “I hope to show it in community centers, churches, schools. … I want this to be a movement in the name of these victims.

“The more people that see it and hear these stories, the more people like those in the film will feel like their loved ones didn’t die in vain. If their lives are inspiring people, that means something long after they’ve died.”

“Love Hate Love” screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8 at the JCC of San Francisco, 3200 California St. $10. (415) 292-1209 or

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.