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Wallflower, a movie about the Capitol Hill Massacre, finally released and screening in Seattle

“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.” (Image: Wallflower)

Wallflower director Jagger Gravning

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). 

On your 2011 Kickstarter page, you wrote that your aim was to “accurately portray” the shooter’s “emotional downfall” and make a movie that would explore his point of view. 

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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9 thoughts on “Wallflower, a movie about the Capitol Hill Massacre, finally released and screening in Seattle

  1. Interesting. I never paid much attention to this shooting other than knowing it had happened and was in the news for a while, That and many other shootings occurred in Seattle.

    My heart goes out to the victims and the survivors.

    What I’ll say is this, we as a society has lots of questions we have to ask of ourselves. How do we protect our citizens, empower those that don’t feel empowered, and help those that are suffering.

    Right now our answers are “good luck with that”.

    We try to help each other but we don’t really have the structure and mechanisms to really help people. We’re getting better. But even psychology is still in its medieval days.

    In 100 years I’m hoping we have better structure around mental health and empowering people. What do we want of any individual our civilization? Live a happy and productive life doing what you would like to do and creating an experience that fits you and to have a mentally happy life.

    We should remove shame about mental health and start understand that mental health is like the flu. Sometimes we are mentally well and happy (not sick) and sometimes we get the flu and need to do self care. Our society puts a stigma on those suffering and a fear of those suffering. And those not suffering have not context to understand and then minimize those suffering.

    Anyone that purposefully kills another human being is suffering from a mental health crises. We need to build mechanisms to help those individuals.

    What my dream solution is? That we get technology to the point where they can go in and fix neuropathways (via microtech) for the worst mental health issues like depression, ptsd and others. And proven solid free therapies for others.

    For those that want to understand humanity more should read the book “Sapiens: A brief history of humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. He has gotten very close to what drives the human condition.

    Luckily we humans have a long running history of making things better for ourselves.

    I hope this movie has a teaching moment and respects the memories of those that were involved.

  2. The filmmaker complained that when they filmed this in the U District college students didn’t know about this shooting. Well they would’ve been 6 to 8 years old. Not sure young children are tracking every rave party shooting or even should.

  3. This was the incident that woke me up, once and for all, to what a danger white rural uneducated armed men can pose to society. And how living in a community of choice, like Capitol Hill, is no real defense against these men. I have not seen the film, and am unlikely to want to. I don’t want to “understand” Kyle Huff. I want the next Kyle Huff prevented. We aren’t doing very well on that front, not as long as the NRA’s politics rule gun laws.

    • definitely an interesting take on the situation…. stereotype much do you?

      You sound a little snobbish as well, “community of choice”…. big fence with guards maybe is where you need to live.

      Do you get to pick and choose your neighbors to ensure they meet your approved list of attributes?

      Unless we start arresting people for what they might do instead of what they do, we will never be able to prevent people from doing evil things.

      The NRA is an organisation of citizens at least 5 million strong that supports the belief that an armed society keeps the gov’t in check. It is funded by the members.

      The founding fathers didn’t just get back from a hunting trip when they wrote and ratified the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

      It is a little different than all the groups funded by George Soros who is actively working to subvert this nation.

      • “The founding fathers didn’t just get back from a hunting trip when they wrote and ratified the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

        The founding fathers also didn’t have semi-automatic weapons when they wrote and ratified the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

      • The NRA from its founding until the late 1970’s (when the theocratic white supremacist “conservative movement” began to take control of the Republican Party and began to politicize the NRA via the newly campaign finance laws) was all about rifle clubs, hunting, and target shooting, and supported gun control and licensing dealers. Your description of the NRA as supporting the “belief that an armed society keeps the government in check” is some domestic terrorist bullshit. You know what keeps government in check? Democracy, education, civil society, civic participation. It sounds like you don’t want to keep government in check, but rather create an alternative government with your NRA terrorist buddies.

    • “This was the incident that woke me up, once and for all, to what a danger white rural uneducated armed men can pose to society”

      You hit the nail on the head there. One corollary: “…and the danger these disturbed, armed men pose to very tolerant and accepting young city people who lack the ability to sniff out that danger”

      Looks like you hit a nerve there with John. I wonder why he was so triggered? Hmm……

  4. That murder happened around the corner from me and my family. It has taken a long time for this house, this place to heal. It’s a rental property so people come and go, in turn the lingering sadness for me has been with the place that housed such tragedy and my concerns for how a place survives such tragedy. I watch for the garden to be beautiful again and was so heartened when new tenants would put energy into growing some flowers and vegetables again. Just hearing there is a movie about this murder opens that wound again. That murder makes me very sad. The morning of the murder is indelibly etched into my family and my being. But so is the response from the neighborhood.—The caring, the support for healing from interfaith groups, the ongoing memorial in the front yard for many many weeks. My first response to there being a movie about this tragedy is it seems to make it harder to keep the focus on healing. I doubt I would ever go see it. Although I think reflecting on the circumstances of this murder is a reminder of all the work we have to do to love one another, to close the separation people feel because of our differences and to help people who suffer greatly not turn to violence.

  5. When I read the letter the perp wrote to his brother before he committed the murders, I quickly concluded it was simply a hate crime by somebody living in a place he hated living. A hater of sex who murdered six fellow young people simply for enjoying being alive. If alive today, the perp would no doubt be a MAGA Bro Trump supporter.

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