When 13 Families, a new documentary about how the families of the thirteen victims of the Columbine shootings cope with their loss, premieres tonight at the Denver FilmCenter, it will be a new experience for the public. After so much media focus on the more sensational and political aspects of that sad day in American -- and metro area -- history, this is a film that tells a much more personal story: that of the people who had to pick up the pieces after loosing someone dear in the most unfathomable way.
We chatted with two of the three filmmakers, Nicole Corbin and Steve LuKasic, about how and why they made 13 Families. Keep going for the Q&A.
Westword: How did the 13 Families project get off the ground? Nicole Corbin: We originally met with some of the families about another Columbine project we were thinking about, and began to feel that it wasn't the right film to make. Then, we thought, "What if we did a film just about them?" The families were hesitant about that, but one by one they came on board.
Steve LuKanic: Meeting with the Columbine families was like meeting an old friend. It could have happened to anyone, how they went from normal lives. In some ways, they were very cautious. They needed to know that we had no ulterior motive in wanting to make the film. It was like they were asking, "Why do you want to do this project?" Once they realized who we were, that we had no agenda, they agreed to work with us. They are a very close-knit group, but once they realized that, 'Yeah, we think these two are okay,' we began to determine what stories they wanted to share. At first, we never brought cameras with us; instead, we networked with them, had dinner with them, got to know each other.
NC: The biggest revelation for us is what these families actually didn't know about each other. And the biggest story? The fact that the siblings of the victims were really forgotten in all the media coverage. They were never in the limelight.
SL: And there were some moments in the filming that took our breath away. What do you do with a dead child? How do you part with the clothes? The things that they hold dear? That never goes away. Anyone who loses child will be like that.
There were times when I'd be sitting there talking with them, and I'd wish I could turn the clock back to day before it happened. They are such a wonderful group of people to experience something so difficult. Halfway through the filming, I became a dad. It's interesting how you see things from a whole different perspective after having a child. It becomes so much more emotional.
One of the things that was so fascinating to us -- here were thirteen families, who all experienced the same loss on the same day. How so they all grieve so differently? Wow! How does that happen?
WW: How is this film different from other Columbine film and media coverage? SL: We chose not to focus on the controversies. Instead, we wanted to focus to be on the murder victims and the families. We determined early on to focus solely on the thirteen murder victims, not on Harris and Klebold.
NC: We asked them all what was most important to them, and we would try to weave that into the plot. It's interesting that though they all went through the same tragedy, there were so many different responses.
WW: What do you hope audiences will take away after viewing it? SL: There are many messages we hope people will take away with them. First off, that for anyone who goes through a loss, there is no real right or wrong way to deal with it. And the fact that life is precious, that you should be involved with your child, involved in their lives, because you never know from day to day what's going to happen. That's the message: You can go through that kind of a tragedy, and then find happiness again. The Columbine families demonstrate that if they are able to do that, anyone can.
We show what it's like once the cameras go away and the well-wishers are gone. They're left with a whole new life. When you see the film, that becomes very clear.
WW: Have the Columbine families all seen 13 Families? SL: We did have a private screening for them last year. A huge percentage of them were there.
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WW: And their reaction? SL: When the lights came up afterward? Watching their own lives unfold made for a very emotional screening. But after reliving what they'd been through, they were mostly very pleased, and so complimentary. They said, 'You came into our lives, and you told us what to do. You honored our child, honored a dad, and that meant the world to us."
Tonight's DocNight presentation, 7 p.m. at the Denver FilmCenter, will include a Q&A session with the three filmmakers, as well as some of the family members who appear in the film, possibly including (although not confirmed at the time of this interview) Tom Mauser, Betty Shoels and Dawn Anna. The official preview follows: