"Parkland — that just seemed very similar and familiar to Columbine," said Laura Farber, who survived the April 20, 1999, massacre in Littleton, Colo., when she was a freshman. "From the news footage to the size of the school and the imagery of the kids running" from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
Farber still has PTSD episodes whenever a school shooting makes news. She believes her feature directorial debut, "We Are Columbine," has helped her heal. "Working and talking about Columbine for seven years, working on this film, I feel I've done a lot of work. Filmmaking on this topic has been very therapeutic, actually."
Farber will be part of a panel discussion on gun violence at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, where her documentary will have its world premiere. Joining her are Jaimi Norden, another survivor and a subject of the documentary; Kiki Leyba, a Columbine teacher; and Rick Kaufman, who led the crisis response team. The film will be shown on the 19-year anniversary of the Columbine shootings, Friday (April 20) at 7:10 p.m., and again Saturday (April 21) at 2 p.m. at St. Anthony Main Theatre.
Farber has worked on reality TV shows such as "Gangland" and "My Strange Addiction." "You might have assumptions about someone incarcerated. They felt the same way about us," said Farber, whom I interviewed via phone with Chris Charles, a "Columbine" producer. The film's trailer features the voice of a news anchor I recognized: WCCO-TV's Frank Vascellaro.
Q: How long ago did you start work on this project, Chris?
A: We began in 2011. This has been a labor of love for Laura. She attended Columbia College in Chicago and studied film and that's where we met. [She] decided she wanted to tell this very personal story. As a former student at Columbine she had unprecedented access to the school and the subjects, who are known to be very guarded with the media due to violations of privacy that occurred many years ago.
Q: How did Minneapolis get on your radar, Chris?
A: John Bosher and I had done some postproduction in Minneapolis for "Chicago Overcoat," so when we got involved with ["We Are Columbine"], we decided to finish the movie in the Twin Cities. Laura was living there at the time, so it worked out really well. [Farber's husband transferred here for work.] We did all our editing and postproduction and sound and graphics in the Twin Cities. It just made sense and it's a great festival. We've screened there; a lot of our crew lives in the Twin Cities.
Q: What do you want people to take away from this film, Chris?
A: We hope people understand the lingering effects of traumatic events, particularly on kids. Columbine happened nearly 20 years ago but as you will see in the film, the people who were there are still dealing with that to this day. It's easy to forget because I think we have been so desensitized in this country by gun violence. We hope it continues a very important conversation.
Q: Laura, you've probably noticed a change in how older survivors deal with school shootings?
A: It's just the opposite. We kept our mouths shut. We were flipping off the media cameras parked outside of our school. These kids are like: Listen to me. I'm speaking and I want you to hear us. I think that's what we always wanted. This is very positive. They're angry. But I think they are using their anger in a very positive way now, most of them. Without social media [Columbine survivors] just felt our experience was very private and personal … so anybody from the outside who didn't experience it — we felt like you just don't talk about it [with them]. It was part of the unspoken understanding. But working on the film I would say I learned a lot about my classmates. We all experienced a lot of the same issues.
Q: Issues such as?
A: Knowing your exits. When you go into a room, for example, you know how to get out. I still do that to this day. You don't sit with your backs to a door. At a music event or concert, we typically stand toward the back, not up in the front. We want to be able to see everybody and everything.
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on Fox 9's "Buzz." E-mailers, please state a subject; "Hello" does not count.