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Jeff Kass

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Taking Back Columbine on Film

Posted: 04/17/2012 8:18 pm

Amid the tears and reflections, anniversaries surrounding major events often emerge with a storyline.

At least that's the way I've seen the April 20, 1999 Columbine High School shootings, where I was one of the first reporters on scene and ten years later published the book Columbine: A True Crime Story. The 13th anniversary is Friday.

The 10-year anniversary of the shootings, which prompted the greatest round of media attention since the shootings themselves, was no exception. The storyline then came, appropriately enough, at the culmination of a series of observances: A sunset ceremony at Clement Park adjacent the school. Former President Bill Clinton -- who was in office at the time of the shootings -- spoke by videotape, and approximately 1,000 people attended, according to one estimate.

The storyline from many of those who had gathered, as the Denver Post put it, was "The time to write a new meaning for 'Columbine' has come." The paper quoted teacher Lee Andres as saying, "It's my hope you look at your school as that -- your school -- not the most famous high school in the world." Andres added that the world may then see Columbine as "a symbol for strength, courage and hope." That same storyline was echoed earlier in the day when the state legislature passed the resolution "Columbine High School Triumph Over Tragedy."

These were not bad thoughts. But the truth is that Columbine will never cease to be the scene where two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher before taking their own lives. It may never cease to be the archetype of school shootings. With apologies to Andres, Columbine alumni, and current students, this is not a bad thing either. To whitewash what happened at Columbine would also be a crime.

And yet, as we approach the 13th anniversary, the Columbine story is being revised in legitimate and important ways. This is not a nod to the pronouncements made on the 10-year anniversary, but like other historical turns, this change appears to result from the random yet timely collision of various factors: the rise of social media, one person's vision, and enough distance from the original event to bring perspective and healing. And it is happening on film.

Last year the film "13 Families" was released portraying the journeys of the victim families. This was not the first time these families had taken ownership of the tragedy -- there had been everything from lawsuits to the successful drive for a new school library, where most were killed. But the film was seen as another triumph for victim families in telling their story rather than the killers' story.

And now Columbine grad and Denver resident Samuel J. Granillo, who works in film and television as a freelance camera and production assistant, is trying to raise funds for a film called Columbine: Wounded Minds about the survivors. Other Columbine students have explored the shootings, including Brooks Brown's book No Easy Answers. Granillo was a 17-year-old junior lunching in the cafeteria when the shootings began. He and 17 others were then trapped in a kitchen cafeteria for three hours until rescued by SWAT.

As Granillo writes on the film website, the "unofficial thought" for making the film was "how to get help to those still suffering from the mental and physical traumas of the event." He adds, "The DREAM is to create a formula or foundation providing free services to all those who need mental health help. From soldiers coming home to other school shooting survivors, a plan needs to be devised ..."

Granillo has raised approximately $15,000 of the $250,000 he is seeking for the film, and is already doing some interviews, fueled by his passion and the volunteer help of friends. Granillo's film has been mentioned in a number of Denver media stories, and emerged as a counterpoint to an already controversial miniseries on the shootings proposed by Lifetime. Granillo and I are Facebook friends, and his Facebook page has become an online forum for discussing the healing and history surrounding the shootings.

The highly publicized 10-year anniversary of the shootings produced the call to rewrite and take back Columbine High. But this 13th anniversary -- surely a blip on the media and public radar -- may go down as the year that made that pronouncement reality.

From what I've seen so far, I think Granillo gets it right on his website when he writes, "This documentary isn't just a message, it's a movement."

 
 
 

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