Like the Columbine High School shooting, the September 11th terror attacks, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I’ll always remember the events that transpired during the Aurora Theater Shooting of 7/20/12. Living in Denver brought the tragedy to my front door. My father woke me up before my alarm to tell me the news. Knowing I am the first to see movies, he wanted to make sure I wasn’t there and was okay. I did attend the IMAX screening hosted by Allied on Wednesday evening. After that phone call, I scrolled the sensationalist Drudge Report, the exceptional coverage offered by Nikki Finke at Deadline.com, and bewildered local news to update myself with breaking news. I became overwhelmed with emotions and even wanted to throw up. This could’ve occurred at any high profile screening I attend. Before I went to bed the previous night, I saw on my Facebook news-feed all my Eastern time-zone friends and acquaintances post about their anticipation for the TDKR. However in the morning, excitement for the most anticipated movie of 2012 turned to shock, fear, and then grief.
My two direct connections to the incident involves knowing someone who was supposed to attend a screening at that theater in the auditorium next door, but became sick and had to cancel. Also, one of my old friends who recently relocated tweeted that his brother, an Aurora police officer, was on duty and reported to the chaotic scene. (In an eerie realization, I actually saw “The Dark Knight” in 2008 with both this friend and his brother.) Aurora is an area I’m vaguely familiar with because I don’t make it out too much due to it being out of the way from where I live. The Cinemark Century 16 is one of the only theaters in the Denver metro area I have never attended.
This whole incident and the unfolding events of the day felt completely surreal. After a somber day working, I was delighted to leave. Due to the dark mood from the day’s events, it was the worst day of my 2½-year career in the Entertainment industry. When I arrived at my apartment, I called my parents and drank some whiskey. We talked about the shooting and my life. A national tragedy puts many things into perspective. Afterwards, I had to get out of the house, but where to go? I thought of the Denver Film Society’s Denver FilmCenter at Colfax. Sure enough one of the execs at the non-profit posted on Facebook about her day. She mentioned how the community of film lovers in Denver has offered support by just showing up to the Film Center. That motivated me to head over there. I wanted to be with my film community during this challenging time.
As DFS members and employees we were hanging out on the patio near our theater discussing our stories from the day, we heard sirens and looked toward Colfax Avenue. Hazmat trucks drove by toward the east probably en-route toward Peoria Avenue, near the suspect’s booby-trapped apartment building (located five miles from our location). At this moment, I realized that this shooting occurred in my city and directly affected the Denver Film Community. Local and native Coloradoans near my age brought up memories of the Columbine High School shooting. These next few weeks could be challenging as old memories resurface. That night I went home exhausted from the emotion of the day and just enough alcohol to make one sleepy.
The next day was a weekend celebration of my birthday, which was much needed. The shooting incident came up in conversation, but I was great to be in the presence of friends considering the gruesome nature and powerful stories that emerged from the shooting. On Sunday, I joined my congregation at SCUM of the Earth Church (yes, that is the name of my church) to hear a sermon by both my pastor Mike Sares and my buddy/quasi-mentor Evan Perkins about an evil world, the shooting, and how Christians can be a positive example for change. I wanted to go to the vigil with the Governor Hickenlooper and President Obama, but glad I found so much peace, truth, grace, love, and fulfillment at my church. After the sermon, we gathered in small groups to pray for all the victims and their families. During this time, I struggled knowing that people in Denver, movie fans, were murdered in a movie theater.
I hope the Aurora shooting doesn’t ruin the theater going experience especially in Denver, but it has at the very least temporary consequences. People were grateful for the police officers greeting guests at the door at the Denver Film Center Colfax. Though they were there for security, it serves as an unfriendly reminder. Will this be the norm? I wonder what the Hollywood and theater companies will do to ensure safety? As this industry is struggling to retain viewers distracted by various forms of options, the shooting on the minds of moviegoers has potential to become another hindrance for the distribution channel of film. The industry must respond with swift action and bold assurance that the safety of their patrons is a top priority. As a debate will rage between discussing gun control and censorship of film violence, maybe the industry should consider common sense security precautions for all venues. As a movie fan, it is important to remember those who lost their lives on 7/20/12 in the shooting. The media is focusing on the kooky alleged shooter, but the people who attended a late night screening are the ones who must be remembered and their short lives eulogized. Sitting in an auditorium during the next few movie screenings could be a psychologically daunting experience. As I follow the stories, I keep thinking of the three brave men who shielded their girlfriends from the gunfire…dying so the ones they love could live. The idea of sacrificial love is a noble characteristic of my Christian faith. In the darkest hour of those moments in theater 9 at the Century 16 Theater, there were dignified human beings in that auditorium who valued someone else above themselves. I hope to have enough bravery to sacrifice my life for someone I truly love. This inspirational concept might be what stays with me the longest trumping the horror of the catastrophe.