In the aftermath of the deadly rampage at Columbine High School, Colorado became a media poster child for the effects of gun violence. And as shockwaves rippled from the April 20, 1999, tragedy, some blamed art -- including movies -- for igniting the killing spree.
In turn, filmmakers examined violence as a cultural wound. As part of this inquiry, the Denver International Film Festival will showcase four films: Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, as well as American Gun, Zero Day and Home Room.Moore -- a longtime member of the National Rifle Association -- has strong opinions about the roots of the Columbine massacre, and he'll join the directors of the other three films, along with Home Room star Busy Philipps and Tom Mauser, father of slain Columbine student Daniel Mauser, in the panel discussion "Violence in America: Movies Imitating Life."
Philipps, who plays Goth teen turned suspect Alicia Browning in the 2001 film about an American community coping with a life-shattering shooting, is passionate about the project. "One of the things that is so important about this film is that it doesn't revolve around the shooters," says Philipps, who played Kim, a similar outcast, in NBC's short-lived Freaks and Geeks. "It revolves around the aftermath and the children, who are put in this awful position that no child should ever be put in."
According to the 23-year-old Philipps, currently a cast member of TV's Dawson's Creek, writer/director Paul F. Ryan's first feature steers away from sensationalism, probing the deeper legacy of random mayhem. "Adults try to look for the answers," she says. "Children are just trying to survive and get through it."
The Los Angeles-based Ryan, who began writing the Home Roomscript before the Columbine deaths, says that watching the events unfold here helped him refine his focus. In the end, he concentrated on the people who have to continue living with the results of such horrors.
"I was concerned with how people respond in the wake of tragedy," he says. "In Home Room, the shooting itself is described infrequently. The story is constructed about universal feelings, about what happens when you lose people you love."
Mauser, who knows the pain firsthand, supports continued reflection on all aspects of violence. "I would assume that somebody might be upset, saying, 'Do we have to look at this again? Is this exploitation of all gun violence?' But we haven't solved that problem," he says.
"It's important to continue the dialogue. I may not agree with some of the viewpoints of the filmmakers, but we must continue the dialogue."