Two Edmonton filmmakers create a documentary on school shootings and the media’s infamous role
Media frenzies can be an unsavoury situation of blown-out truths and misguided coverage. The neverending rounds of mass shootings in the United States have arguably been some of the worst examples of this.
University of Alberta alumnus Patrick Michaud, Jesse Werkman, and Daniel Kiskaroly felt this was the case with the 2014 mass shooting in Isla Vista’s University of California, Santa Barbara. They remember watching the news coverage of the shooting as it evolved and increasingly gave a spotlight to the shooter with extended airtime of his YouTube video, manifesto, motives, and mental health.
“That one really stuck with me out of all the school shootings that have happened,” Michaud says. “I mean, how did this guy upload a video to YouTube and get glorified? It just seems like everyone fell into this trap that he wanted them to fall into.”
“I didn’t even know about the victims, their names or where it was or anything,” Werkman recalls of 2014’s news coverage of the event.
As U of A students not far in age from the victims, the three Edmontonians knew they needed to do something apart from the typical media trap.
Their film, Vista: The Story of a Shooting Victim, recounts the events leading up to the shooting, by four Isla Vista residents: survivor Antoine Cherchian, his friend Xander, EMT student Cameron, and Sgt. Riley Harwood of the Santa Barbara Police. More importantly though, the documentary highlights what the aftermath is like for victims and the greater community, after all the media have moved on.
After the shooting, Cherchian typically refused media interviews and simply wanted to move past the event. But two years later, Michaud, by way of a Wikitrail, set his sights on telling Cherchian’s story. A complete shot in the dark, Michaud found Cherchian on Facebook (given his unique name) and told the Isla Vista student about his idea for a documentary and the contra-media angle he wanted to pursue.
In 2016 the Edmonton filmmakers self-funded two trips to Isla Vista two years after the shooting to film the 30-minute documentary not based on the shooter, but the story of the victims, the survivors, and the community as a whole.
Michaud references several movies on the subject, including Lynne Ramsay’s film We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011). He then quotes a line from Lionel Shriver’s original novel of the same name: “In a country that doesn’t discriminate between fame and infamy, the latter presents itself as plainly more achievable.”
Filmed in an unpolished style, Vista grabs the viewer’s attention and sits them right beside the victims, relying on wells of human empathy to make a decision as to how to approach the subject going forward. Today the documentary acts as a testament to the increasing number of people and communities that have experienced a mass shooting in the States and the subsequent emotional and physical traumas that follow.
“With the Florida shooting, I think it’s largely been the victims taking it upon themselves to be heard,” Werkman says. “What’s going on now I think is pretty unprecedented; I think it takes a lot of strength to do what they’re doing.”
“They’re taking this thing that could easily trigger all of these emotional traumas every day and they’re dealing with that when they’re on [TV] saying ‘I wanna help all these other people,’” Michaud adds.
Werkman and Michaud both agree that since 2014 mass shooting media coverage has improved in regards to not glorifying shooters, but instead telling the story of those affected by the horrific events. Yet, we are continually reminded there is still work to be done.
“They’re taking that attention that the media’s giving them and sort of flipping it on itself and using it to spread their message ahead of the narrative the media tells,” Werkman says. “They’re creating their own narrative, so hopefully it results in some good.”
Sun., Apr. 8 (4 pm)
Panel discussion with filmmakers to follow