the essential The 20 next September will be broadcast on the National Geographic channel, “AZF: au coeur du chaos”, a new documentary on the disaster of 20 September 2001. La Dépêche saw this film in preview.
“It seemed to us that it was the right moment to make this film”, explains Thierry Marro, the producer. “Of course, there is the anniversary date of 20 years, but above all, time has passed and people are more peaceful.”
Archive images and unpublished testimonies
In this film, which retraces the disaster minute by minute, the viewer discovers numerous unseen archive images and ambitious reconstructions. Numerous striking photos and videos show the extent of the explosion and the damage.
Another particularity of this documentary: it is the witnesses who recount this very special moment. “This is a human film,” explains the producer. “The director, Simon Kessler, managed to convince people who had never spoken.” Indeed, unpublished witnesses have agreed to deliver their memories in front of National Geographic cameras.
René Maillot, deputy director of the AZF factory, testifies for the first time in front of the camera. With emotion, he describes a real “war zone, where one could not even recognize the factory” after the explosion. Her colleague, Christel Arce-Menso, deputy workshop manager in the AZF factory, also tells how she lived this day.
Another unpublished testimony, and the most moving, that of Monique Mauzac, wife of an AZF employee who died in the explosion. “It was difficult to testify in this documentary, even 20 years later”, confides to us the one whose husband directed the production of ammonium nitrate . “The director contacted me last spring and I agreed to speak. Why? It’s ambiguous: maybe I felt a bit obligated, or because I needed to express myself too.”
“A global vision of that day”
Lieutenant-Colonel Christophe Ghiani, the group leader on Operation AZF, also appears on the screen. On 21 September 2001, he was told that “AZF has been wiped off the map”: he intervenes quickly on the spot. He tells in particular how after 8 hours spent rescuing the victims, he discovered this huge crater of 70 meters in diameter which had caused the explosion. “Its size sawed me so much that I had to sit down,” he says. “To see my lost eyes, my vague gaze in the report, made me aware of the state of astonishment in which I was”, he confides to us at the end of the screening.
“This is the first time that I have the impression of having such a global vision of that day”, explains Colonel Christian Pizzocaro, Commander of Relief Operations (SDIS 31), present during the preview. “The report has the merit of putting in place different sources, different images, different testimonies. It also brings us to us, who were focused on the rescue”, outbid Lieutenant-Colonel Christophe Ghiani.
An opinion shared by Monique Mauzac: “The film is very well done. It gives the floor to the witnesses”, even if, she admits, it was hard for her to watch.
“We are always in search of truth”
The film also raises the question that remains unanswered, even today: what happened? The various hypotheses on the causes of the explosion are mentioned, such as the theses of the attack or the electric arc coming from the neighboring National Society of Powders and Explosives (SNPE), which have since been rejected.
According to the conclusions of justice, the origin of the disaster would be an accidental mixture, made by an employee, of chlorine and nitrate. However, these conclusions remain criticized by part of the population. “Plant officials continue to believe that this mixture could not create such an explosion,” reports the voiceover of the documentary. Before giving the floor to Christel Arce-Menso, deputy workshop manager in the AZF factory: “We are always in search of the truth about what happened”.
“I still do not have the impression of knowing what happened”, also confides to us Monique Mauza. “For that, the film is very well done too. As a chemist, I think that there is a lack of energy input to create an explosion. Before justice took care of it, it would have had to be international specialists who go to do analyzes. It’s hard to live not knowing “.
In France, the National Geographic channel is available in the Canal + offers (Canal + channel 115, Free (TV by Canal) channel 60).