When, in 2011, Seattle filmmaker Jagger Gravning launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for his movie about the Capitol Hill Massacre, during which a gunman, invited to a rave-afterparty, murdered six people at an E Republican home in the early hours of March 25, 2006, the backlash was swift. Many believed the movie shouldn’t be made.
Now, that movie, Wallflower, is made and ready for its local theatrical release. Wallflower premiered in New York earlier this fall and will screen in Seattle’s Grand Illusion Cinema November 30th to December 3rd.
For Gravning, the road to this point was full of speed bumps and controversy. Before Wallflower premiered in Seattle during the Seattle International Film Festival in 2017, a co-producer pulled back from the project, and an associate producer and survivor told The Stranger she was dismayed at the film’s focus on the perpetrator and how Gravning had mined her PTSD.
But that, Gravning says, wasn’t the reason for the movie’s two-year standstill. Their distributor, as Gravning puts it, had “some issues.” For two years, as financial trouble and wildfires plagued Wallflower’s distribution company, and as its CEO became ill and ultimately passed away, the film’s distribution was put on hold. Now released from contractual obligations and with a new distributor, the film is now finally coming to movie theaters.
Much has changed. Gravning had cancer (he is now in remission), and became the father of a son, who is now three. Mass shootings have become more frequent and more deadly.
And some, Gravning says, have forgotten about the tragedy.
“We rented a house in the U District from college students,” Gravning told CHS about filming the movie back in 2016. “They didn’t even remember. This has been totally forgotten by a whole generation of people. This is a part of our history, really at the cusp of fading away.”
CHS spoke to Gravning about his movie ahead of the release. This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.
The movie retells that history, but parts are fictionalized. What’s Wallflower’s relationship to the event as it happened?
Regarding the sequence of the shooting and what led up to it and how it all unraveled is exactly correct, as far as I’m aware. Even the clothing he was wearing, the truck he’s driving, the timeline.
Now the party…I was not at the rave or the party. I knew real people who were there (but) the characters in the film are not one-to-one recreations of anybody. The party is based on my firsthand experiences with ravers. All of the stuff outside of the crime itself is based on my firsthand experiences with ravers in other circumstances in other times.
Why did you want to tell this story?
I just felt compelled to tell the story. It was just something that had a hold of me. I kept thinking about it. I think the whole city, even if they didn’t have personal connections to the shooting itself, was traumatized by his event — myself included.
I had my reasons for making this particular story because…I knew real people who were there and I grew up with some of these people and I’d hung out with them. I don’t think I ever would have dared to make a film like this had I not had these firsthand experiences. I really wasn’t trying to enter into a larger dialogue about some of these other subjects. It’s just this humanity and the tragedy of this particular situation. (Gravning later emailed CHS to clarify that violence in his past — including an attempted murder of his mother during a home invasion when he was 16, as well as the fact that his mother took a survivor of the Capitol Hill Massacre in — also laid the groundwork for his interest in making this movie).
The thing that’s interesting to me, and unique about Wallflower, is this world of joy — at least grasping towards joy as the ravers would. Trying to be happy, intentionally trying to be goofy. It was a very accepting… tight-knit, welcoming community. And then you have somebody who’s alienated and feels alone and is scapegoating other people…and then it just gets worse and worse and escalates.
This is an issue that people have in extreme circumstances of hate, an intolerance that leads to things such as murder…I always think of that house and what happened that night, (as) sort of a microcosm of humanity to some degree.
In 2017, some of the people who worked with you on the movie didn’t seem happy with the film’s focus and felt it focused too much on the shooter’s perspective. It didn’t seem like you agreed with them then. Have you changed your mind about that in the last two years?
To be blunt: I don’t think that my feelings have changed. We made the film that we wanted to make. I made the film I wanted to make. It turned out the way we wanted it to turn out and we are very proud of the film and getting a very good reaction you’ve been from audiences and from reviewers. So that’s a valid opinion for someone to have. But I don’t know what to do about that because if I went back and had to do it again I wouldn’t do it any different.
Did you learn something by exploring the shooter’s point of view?
People who think that this is not a common phenomenon are blind. This is something that’s going on in the hearts of young men all over the place. There are young men who feel bitter and isolated and they want to take revenge and they want to hurt people and they want to kill people and they want to kill women, because they feel rejected. This is happening all around us and it’s something we have to take very seriously. These mass shootings are on the rise. Terrorism is on the rise. These hate groups are on the rise. This is a real thing that’s going on with young men. This is everywhere. This is on our college campuses. This is in our high schools.
This embittered, usually white young man wanting revenge for what he perceives as this bias. And this is a problem for our times. Not just mass shootings, but all these hate groups, all these Neo-Nazis, these “incel” groups, these 4chans and 8chans and whatever -chans, they are uniting.
You talked about the city being traumatized. But people were traumatized too. How did you approach mining other people’s trauma and PTSD?
That’s an important philosophical question. It’s an important question for artists, filmmakers. You know, film is so just automatically visceral. You see something on a screen and you actually can’t stop it. It keeps playing and the sound all around you in the theater.
People question, as you’ve alluded to, “why make this film? Why, essentially, inflict PTSD on a city?” That PTSD is coming anyway because there’s more mass shootings coming in this city. The PTSD is going to happen because the phenomenon itself is going to happen. We have to address this.
You started crowdfunding for this movie in 2011. After 8 years, the movie is now finally coming out. How do you feel about moving on from this movie?
It doesn’t feel like it’s over by any stretch. But I am working on other projects. They are not based on reality (or) on controversial types of subjects. I won’t go into too much detail but (it’s) just stuff that focuses on a little more lighthearted things. Stuff that people are not going to yell at me on the internet for in all caps.
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