Authors: Stuart Bender & Mick Broderick
Format: Documentary segment
Duration: 10′ 6″ extract of 18′ film
Published: March 2014
The short drama Excursion is currently a work-in-progress, at rough cut, that evolved from the two producers’ complementary research pathways. Under Broderick’s supervision screen practitioner Bender recently completed his PhD concerning the aesthetics of screen violence, and Broderick has increasingly applied his theoretical articulation of mass human suffering and trauma to screen praxis. Between the period of Bender’s completion and publication of his dissertation by Cambridge Scholars Press, two major mass shootings occurred in the USA: Aurora Texas and Sandy Hook Connecticut. We observed familiar tropes played out in the media coverage of these events that invoked “vicarious trauma” and “empty empathy” (Kaplan & Wang 2004) but little else. As media practitioners we agree that we were in a privileged and timely position (theoretically, praxiologically and institutionally) to attempt a mediated response that could address themes of concern.
Given the constraints of budget, resources and time we considered a range of approaches, from highly experimental to mainstream. We decided that a mainstream approach that subtly offered cues and hints of action and response, as well as constructing problematic choices and their consequences, that could leave lingering traces of uncertainty and doubt, and something of the affect of trauma while not alienating audiences, was the best path for our objective. The key questions informing Excursion are:
– how might a short narrative drama provide insights into screen depictions of mass shootings?
– what are the missed opportunities often eschewed by conventional or clichéd screen narratives in such depictions?
– how might screen fiction embed and impart useful behavioural strategies in a non-didactic manner that complements public service/educational programs such as Run.Hide.Fight. (City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security 2012)?
– how could crowd sourcing involve the public in the linked processes of funding, publicity, and final edit?
Drawing from theoretical models of traumatic representation (Walker 2005, Radstone 2000, 2007, Kaplan 2005) and the defamiliarization of violence (Prince 2008, Cronenberg 1992, van Sant 2003), our short film Excursionattempts to explore similar concepts within its depiction of an institutional shooting rampage. Although the narrative presents a massacre in a fictional tertiary education setting, the video’s two killers evoke strong association with the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in which two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and one teacher. Several popular film and television works deal specifically with the Columbine massacre, includingElephant (van Sant, 2003), the documentary Bowling for Columbine (Moore 2002) and the ‘true story’ dramaZero Hour: Massacre at Columbine High (BBC 2004). The issues explored by these texts have undeniable social significance, as Glenn W. Muschert and Johanna Sumiala (2012) write:
The fact that the perpetrators are typically young people intensifies the symbolic meanings associated with the shootings, and these youth (often males) do not project harmony and hope, but rather threaten the sense of security and increase feelings of desperation (xvi).
Arguably, the predominant trend in artistic works dealing with school shootings is to problematise the context of the killers: their motivations, their age, their access to guns, video games etc. This obsession with the killers’ perspective is also common in academic and psychology-based attempts to understand the phenomenon. For instance, Douglas Kellner’s research into the cultural network of (hyper)masculinity issues, media representations, gun ownership and educational policies (Kellner, 2008; 2010) as well as Peter Langman’s interest in understanding school shooters’ psychology to try to prevent future massacres (Langman 2009, and www.schoolshooters.info). Indeed, Langman observes that “the magnitude of the events, as well as the mystery of what causes them, has resulted in widespread speculation about the perpetrators” (2009: 79).
By contrast, our film deliberately sidelines the killers’ motivations and personae to refocus attention onto the trauma associated with victims and survivors of such an event. This occurs particularly in Clip 2 (timecode 06:15 – 07:10) in which two school girls are hiding in the library shelving area and come face-to-face with one of the killers. The tension of the scene results from neither the fabula nor syuzhet anticipating whether or not the killer will shoot them. Prior to this sequence the shooters have targeted people at random; killing some, letting other characters live, ignoring groups and individuals as they flee, even simply wounding someone with no coup de grace. Narratively, no reason is provided as to who lives and who dies. When the killer stares blankly at the schoolgirls and then walks away (07:00-07:05) there is no explanation, only ambiguity. Thus, the sequence gestures directly towards the psychological “death imprint” and “survivor guilt” these characters would be expected to experience later, and for the rest of their lives (Lifton 1982: 1014). In doing so, the sequence functions to defamiliarise the traditional media coverage of real life mass shootings as well as conventional methods of presenting violent death in cinematic texts more generally. “In the movies,” suggests Stephen Prince:
“a killer’s victims are quite discrete and are limited largely to those who are actually killed […] In life, those affected are far more numerous because the fallen have families, friends, acquaintances, and those families and friends have other friends and families who are affected because they know someone who was involved” (2009: 286-287).
Such concerns are echoed in the comments of one of our actors, Nathan Hadwiger, when interviewed about the significance of the film (timecode 02:25-02:35). While Gus van Sant argues that his film Elephant is thus titled to demonstrate that the typical questions asked of school shooters are unanswerable (Taubin 2003: 27-28),Excursion deliberately avoids such questions, instead concentrating on both the considered and confused actions of victims and survivors, and raising the spectre of their lasting consequences.
For Bender, Excursion is an opportunity to explore these theoretical concepts of screen violence and defamiliarisation in a practical context and as such draws upon his PhD research into the style of WW2 combat films (Bender 2012) as well as his practical experience directing action/thriller genre films. Part of his dissertation used Stephen Prince’s (2003) poetics of violence as a means of engaging with screen representations of combat violence, and in taking this approach to analyse the combat sequences in Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998), it became apparent that defamiliarising devices serve a central purpose in creating a sense of “realism” in scenes of violence.
Broderick’s research and media practice concerning screen mediations of trauma (2008, 2009), mass human suffering (2010, 2011) and place (2010) informs the original story and design of Excursion. The evocation of traumatic space that echoes the violence associated with the location and history (Turkmen 2005) was important to the construction of the final sequence, demonstrating how, like the affect upon human survivors and the lag of traumatic pathology (Caruth 1996), locations also bear witness and are indelibly scarred by such events; socio-culturally ‘haunted’ by traumatic auras (Turkmen 2005: 8). Excursion is crafted to innovatively suggest pre-trauma — as the interregnum between the adrenaline rush of fight-or-flight response and the eventual (mis)recognition of latent trauma, its consequences and its unassimilable nature.
Bender, Stuart. 2012. ‘“I’ll see you on the beach!” Masculine performance in Saving Private Ryan (1998) andObjective, Burma! (1945)’, IM: Interactive Media 8, http://nass.murdoch.edu.au/issue8/pdf/IM8-masculine-feminine-article-01-bender.pdf
Bender, Stuart. 2013. Film Style and the World War II Combat Genre. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Bender, Stuart and Mick Broderick. 2013. “Run.Hide.Fight.—Defamiliarizing Violence and the Aesthetic of Survival in the Short Drama Excursion,” RevCon Academic, Perth Revelation Film Festival, July 11 – 12, 2013.
Broderick, Mick. 2008. ‘Waiting to Exhale: Somatic Responses to Place and the Genocidal Sublime’. IM: Interactive Media 4, wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/nass/issue4/pdf/IM4_broderick.pdf
Broderick, Mick. 2009. ‘Mediating Genocide: Producing Digital Survivor Testimony in Rwanda’. In Janet Walker & Bhaskar Sarkar (Eds). Documentary Testimonies: Global Archives of Suffering (AFI Film Reader). Routledge: New York. 215-44.
Broderick, Mick 2010. ‘Topographies of Trauma, Dark Tourism and World Heritage: Hiroshima’s Genbaku Dome’. Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific. 24. April, at http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue24/broderick.htm
Broderick, Mick and Antonio Traverso (Eds). 2010. Trauma, Media, Art: New Perspectives. Newcastle on Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.
Broderick, Mick and Antonio Traverso (Eds). 2011. Interrogating Trauma: Arts & Media Responses to Collective Suffering. London: Routledge.
Caruth, Cathy. 1996. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, 2012. Run.Hide.Fight. Youtube video, 05:56, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VcSwejU2D0
Cronenberg, David. 1997. Cronenberg on Cronenberg. Revised edition. London: Faber & Faber
Kaplan, E. Ann & Ban Wang. 2004. ‘Introduction: from traumatic Paralysis to the Force Field of Modernity’. In E. Ann Kaplan & Ban Wang. Eds. Trauma and Cinema: Cross-Cultural Explorations. Hong Kong: Hong KongUniversity Press.
Kaplan, E. Ann. 2005. Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in the Media and Literature. New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Kellner, Douglas. 2008. Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings From the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre. Colorado: Paradigm.
Kellner, Douglas. 2010. ‘School Shootings, Violence, and the Reconstruction of Education—some Proposals’ inThe Possibility/Impossibility of a New Critical Language in Education, ed. Ilan Gur-Ze’ev, 367-378. The Netherlands: Sense Publishers, pp. 367-378.
Langman, Charles. 2009. ‘Rampage School Shooters: A Typology’ in Aggression and Violent Behavior 14: 79–86.
Lifton, Robert Jay. 1982. “The Psychology of the Survivor and the Death Imprint,” Psychiatric Annals 12 (11): 1011-1020.
Muschert, Glenn W. 2007. “The Columbine Victims and the Myth of the Juvenile Superpredator”, Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 5: 351-366.
Muschert, Glenn W. & Johanna Sumiala. 2012. Introduction: School Shootings as Mediatized Violence, in Muschert, G.W. & Sumialia, J. School Shootings: Mediatized Violence in a Global Age (Studies in Media and Communications, Volume 7), Emerald Group Publishing Ltd, pp. xv-xxx.
Prince, Stephen. 2003. Classical Film Violence: Designing and Regulating Brutality in Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1968. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.
Prince, Stephen. 2009. ‘Violence,’ in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film, eds Paisley Livingstone and Carl Plantinga. New York: Routledge: 279–288.
Radstone, Susannah. ed. .2000. Memory and Methodology. Oxford and New York: Berg
Radstone, Susannah. 2007. ‘Trauma Theory: Contexts, Politics, Ethics’, Paragraph 30: 1, pp. 9-29.
Taubin, Amy. 2003. ‘Part of the Problem’ Film Comment 39 (5): 26-33.
Tumarkin, Maria. 2005. Traumascapes: The Power and Fate of Places Transformed by Tragedy, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2005.
Virginia Tech Review Panel. 2007. Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech: April 16, 2007. Report of the review panel presented to Governor Kaine, Commonwealth of Virginia. Accessed July 7, 2013 from http://www.governor.virginia.gov/TempContent/techPanelReport.cfm
Walker, Janet. 2005. Trauma Cinema, Berkeley: University of California.
Excursion attempts to apply research-based practice to express some under-represented aspects between effect and affect in screen violence. Drawn from Kristin Thompson’s neoformalist approach to film studies, in particular her account of defamiliarising techniques (1981; 1988), Thompson’s work extends Russian formalist principles for the purpose of analyzing films—either identifying their defamiliarising techniques or defamiliarising the films themselves to present them in new and unfamiliar ways.
Our approach has been to apply these concepts to the construction of the film in order to challenge preconceived stereotypes and tropes concerning rampage shootings. Many of these devices are apparent in Clip 1 (timecode 03:40-06:10) in which the killings are presented in multiple, contrasting ways that requires the audience to quickly readjust their point-of-view and point-of-identification concerning screen deaths. For instance, when the film cuts to security camera footage in the middle of the rampage the diegetic sound disappears completely and intrudes with a more shocking impact after the return to the production camera footage (timecode 04:40-45). These distancing techniques stand in stark contrast to the stylistic portrayal of some of the violence in Bender’s previous work, such as the action shorts Double Cross (2011) and The Argentinian Escape (2012). Generally those films render violence in a much more casual, entertaining fashion, whereas Excursion’s camera is employed as a defamiliarising device that occupies a colder, clinical distance from the killings. The minimalist score, by Sam Cutri, is also designed to defamiliarise the chaos of the rampage by creating a droning, atmospheric soundscape which envelopes and contains the action within the single location of the library.
Additionally, the movie convention of characters instantly reacting to violence (cf: Run.Hide.Fight timecode 08:30-08:55) is challenged by showing how normal it is to hear unusual ‘gun-like’ sounds during a university work-day (04:50-05:10).More generally of course, the film defamiliarises the standard attempts by mainstream media to “understand” the killers’ motives by directing the performers to consciously adopt acting styles which offer no indication of their motives. Significantly, the performers’ appearance is deliberately mundane. This aspect of mise-en-scene is intended to destabilise audience’s preconceived images of such shooters as a kind of “superpredator” in black trench-coats (Muschert 2007; Muschert and Ragnedda 2011). Positioning the rampage in an Australian context is a further defamiliarising device—though similar tragic events have occurred in reality in Australia, such as the Monash University shooting in 2002, such events are not usually associated with this country. Techniques that defamiliarise conventions of character motivation and empathy, while sometimes obstructing the audience’s view of the violence, provide cognitive space to move beyond formulaic attempts to comprehend the mass shooters in order to refocus the empathy and identification onto the victims and survivors.
We hope that other practitioners might consider the veracity or otherwise of our approach. For example, our crowd-sourcing strategy is not premised on requesting production or post-production funding. The film is completed, however, it was scripted and contains two alternative (penultimate) endings, one in which a perpetrator is killed, the other where he commits suicide. To maximise the impact of the production we are seeking crowd-source investment to assemble a promotional package that includes press materials, a local cinema premiere, as well as the ability to send the film to multiple local and international festivals, partly to garner prestige from potential awards, but principally to reach broad festival audience exposure around the globe. Unlike most crowd-sourced funding bids, our novel approach centres on only one late and finite aspect of the screen production cycle. Similarly, we have layered a range of donation rewards for crowd-sourced funders to meet our overall target. This includes the opportunity for premium donors to ‘vote with their feet’ on the alternative ending. In effect, this online audience will provide us with test screening feedback to definitively inform the conclusion, in order to ensure the official ending achieves an emotionally satisfying sense of closure for mainstream viewers. The online crowd sourcing process will also provide us with multiple lists of interested parties we can data mine and access to help in the construction of research papers and online surveys related to the film, and build loyalty for future projects.
We have also kept a range of theoretical positions pro-filmic (as in defamiliarising violence), ambiguous and embedded within the narrative, mise-en-scene and action in order to enable audiences to organically identify with the implications of setting and context, rather than didactically foreground issues or plot to convey (directed/intended) meaning. For example, Excursion has several cognitive, diegetic cues that suggest alternative actions that are ‘missed opportunities’ (unused fire alarms, building maps etc.), that may be apparent to the audience, but unrecognised by characters amid the narrative mayhem. We were careful to experiment with representing the ubiquitous use of other screen mediation (laptops, web cams, mobile phones, security cameras). This detail and the corresponding sound design provides layers of inter-subjectivity, enabling both a critique and validation of the digital episteme and social media, where killers record their actions and victims use devices to escape or warn others in sometimes novel ways.
The production of Excursion has been financed by the two producers with substantial in-kind assistance (equipment, locations, security, logistics) from Murdoch University. As a work-in-progress at rough cut the video has yet to be shown in full to audiences, however, screen excerpts along with the theoretical contexts have been presented to industry and academic peers at RevCon during the 2013 Perth International Film Festival (Bender & Broderick 2013).
A major component of the distribution/exhibition strategy has been to engage with crowd sourcing (pozible.com) to fund exposure to local and international festivals. Behind the scenes footage and a producers’ pitch video have been uploaded for Pozible patrons and the project’s impact will be partly measured in the success (or otherwise) of achieving or exceeding our funding goal (A$5,000) for the festivals campaign. Naturally, Excursion’s true impact will only be assessable once the completed film is released by year’s end.
Relevant film credits:
Produced by Stuart Bender and Mick Broderick
Directed by Stuart Bender
Screenplay by Stuart Bender and Cristian Broadhurst
From an original story by Mick Broderick and Stuart Bender
Original score by Sam Cutri
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows
Review 1: Accept work with no alterations
The undertaking is to add a reflective component to what is described as a relatively mainstream drama approach; to supplement Bender’s “action genre work” with the lessons from Broderick’s background research into trauma, and to thereby produce something ‘a little bit experimental’.
Making a drama the subject of practice led research is a difficult thing to do because drama is so married to convention that one wonders what we could possibly ask of it. The gist of this submission is that by combining research into defamiliarising filmmaking techniques and trauma one might argue that the filmmaking process is grounded in research and that the drama perhaps even does a certain kind of research work (by producing findings in response to the questions asked etc.). Evidence is offered along the lines of: by focusing more on the traumatic experience of survivors than on perpetrators the film opens up sites for serious investigation that perhaps exceed the spectacle and thrills of other representations of massacres. The evidence provided by the video and by the written submission does not always paint a perfectly clear and compelling picture. This may be a matter of rhetorical form. For instance, in the video Bender states: “What is always forgotten is the experience of those who are trapped in these situations”. Is this kind of thing ‘always’ forgotten? It may suit authors to stake their claims in absolute terms, but it doesn’t necessarily suit readers.
The language of the submission also becomes gestural at times, because, I think, it is indeed very difficult to make the reader believe that the drama not only is a genuine research project, but also that it can evidence this in itself. We don’t see the drama, so we cannot judge. We see glimpses of the film, and are asked to believe the claims contained in the three and a half minutes of commentary. This link can fall down however, as we make our way across the various claims of the written submission and the three different texts embedded within the video. On the matter of language:
The authors write, “Narratively, no reason is provided as to who lives and who dies. When the killer stares blankly at the schoolgirls and then walks away (07:00-07:05) there is no explanation, only ambiguity. Thus, the sequence gestures directly towards the psychological “death imprint” and “survivor guilt” these characters would be expected to experience later, and for the rest of their lives (Lifton 1982: 1014).”
I think the phrase ‘gestures directly’ betrays a slippage in the claim, these two words leaning in different directions. What these characters would be ‘expected to experience later’ is a matter of conjecture and deferral rather than a matter of immediate and ‘directly’ appreciable meaning. This is one example where the claims being made for the film are a bit gestural. Similarly, the suggestion that the focus on the two cowering girls represents a departure from conventional narratives on the topic is overstating the significance of the images. In fact the images look familiar, as does the ‘defamiliarising’ technique of using CCTV footage etc. So where the research project falls down a bit is in the way that the argument is distributed across media and rhetorical forms. If the language becomes gestural, and the images lack a specific rhetorical punch, then the argument can become frail.
One doesn’t necessarily doubt the work of the research per se, but one might wonder about the ability of either the drama or the reflective video to fully embody the research, and one might also wonder if the weight of the argument has been ideally distributed across these media. Where should we look for the evidence? Within or across these texts? And how should we distinguish between a DVD with a thoughtful and reflective package of extras and this submission? To extend the question about where the evidence is to be found, the written submission says nothing about the reflective video. Is this video just one supplement among many? Or is it the work? This reviewer struggled to understand what the actual object of review was — the drama, or the reflective video, or both? This needs clarification.
This clarification could also extend to certain ambiguous elements, such as the placement of the Public Safety film at the end of the video. The video makes no real narrative claims for this component, other than to give it a third of the time on offer and to place it last. One can contend with it, and try to understand the perhaps dialectical work of it, but its inclusion and placement is quite muted, narratively and conceptually speaking. It is only in the written submission that we learn that one ambition of the drama is to offer an alternative to the didactic form exemplified by the Public Safety film. So the burden of making sense of all this is left with the viewer; not in the good sense, whereby films make us complete the puzzle, but in the way that we have to organise and make sense of the distributed information to complete the authors’ claims on their behalf.
The filmmaking academic Michelle Citron writes about sexual trauma in Home Movies and Other Necessary Fictions, and in that book claims that when we give a sensible, narrative form to trauma, that is a lie, because trauma is not lived in a linear way, nor is it sensible to the sufferer. Citron suggests that narrative makes such experiences seem safe and easy to digest, when they aren’t. Is this something the authors might consider? Certainly it seems like an example of defamiliarising traumatic affect, and indeed the authors hint at something similar in their final point about the ‘unassimilable nature’ of trauma. Is there room here for a non-linear (or less linear) depiction of trauma? Perhaps this idea could become connected to Prince’s point that there are many more traumatised victims than there are actual gun shot victims. What kind of non-linear narrative world might we enter into if we jumped from one nodal point to another, that is, from one traumatised victim to another? But of course this would be to leave the action genre behind. So where does that leave the research? If the path of enquiry will always bring us back inevitably to a prescribed genre form, then it is a heavily prescribed kind of research, one that may not want to know what it finds. This for me is the difficulty of making a drama the focus of practice led research, and I don’t think the reflective video has provided a way out of that problem or sufficiently accepted the size of the challenge.
PS. The authors’ suggestion that the Australian setting is ‘defamiliarising’ because we don’t associate mass killings with that country is not entirely convincing. The Port Arthur and Hoddle Street shootings should be added to the lone example, making the claim a bit weak: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Arthur_massacre_%28Australia%29. I recognise the authors’ broad claim — perhaps that Australia is not the USA — but there is no need to stretch the defamiliarising angle.
Review 2: Reject both work and statement
The topic of the film Excursion is one that is exceptionally difficult to negotiate but also something that urgently talks to some of our worst fears. So I wanted to applaud the filmmakers for tackling such subject matter and doing it with sensitivity, ethical consideration as well as a clear sense of social pragmatism.
The screenwork is made up of a couple of scenes from the film as well as some testimonies from the filmmakers and actors and a public information film. On the basis of this the filmmakers have asked for formative feedback on the work and the statement. In some instances I don’t think that this is entirely feasible: so, for instance, the statement claims ‘the evocation of traumatic space that echoes the violence associated with the location and history was important in the construction of the final sequence’, yet the screenwork doesn’t include that final sequence so I can’t make any judgements about what is echoed. There were a couple of other similar claims.
I thought that the research questions were quite vague; for instance ‘the missed opportunities’ of the second question could really be anything not included in the ‘clichéd screen narratives’, I would have thought. And the third question seems to me to require a much more considered attention to the cultural pedagogy (a non-didactic pedagogy) of a film like this than is evident from either the film clips or the rest of the statement.
My biggest concern though lay in the overarching conception. The work itself is aimed at ‘defamiliarising’ violence and traumatic affect. There is, as the authors clearly know, a large history within film writing and filmmaking aimed at discussing and deploying ‘defamiliarisation’, ‘alienation-effect’, estrangement, and so on. The Russian formalist, Brecht, Eisenstein, etc. were working against what they saw as the unthinking conventionalism of naturalism as it was emerging in film or had emerged in the novel. The authors also know that this is not the same terrain that we are working with now and admit that ‘defamiliarising devices serve a central purpose in creating a sense of “realism” in scenes of violence’. In a culture where there are so many depictions of violence the ‘mainstream’ constantly deploys estrangement in the name of heightened sensation rather than in the Brechtian intention of estranging our reactions against normative responses. So we could say that the mainstream Hollywood industry has hijacked a good deal of the energy of defamiliarisation in the name of the spectacle and the thrills and spills of renewing the conventions of screen violence.
While this might be a historical and theoretical argument it does have real consequences. For instance the authors talk about the defamiliarising of violence in the scene where shooting is seen from the point of view of the security camera and the diegetic sound cuts out. This is now a convention ‘tension extender’ in any number of films that want us to be excited by violence. The trouble with ‘defamiliarisation’ is that it can be asserted without it actually having any affect. My worry is that this isn’t a worry for the filmmakers. I think that they are facing a really interesting paradox: they don’t want to ‘alienate’ the audience, so they opt for mainstream conventions; yet they recognise the need to work on the formal defamiliarising of certain elements of the representation of violence. We can applaud both attitudes, but unless the paradox of this is recognised (wanting to alienate and not alienate) then it can’t be worked-through at the level of practice (which is what I think is happening here).
The authors say that they wanted to direct the film towards the traumatic experience of those affected by shootings rather than direct it towards the narrative preoccupation of the intentionality of the shooters. I was surprised to see, then, so much concentration of the shooters and their intentionality. For instance, in the scene that the authors claim as crucial to their ‘defamiliarisation’ (the scene when the main shooter doesn’t shoot two girls in the library) couldn’t it simply be interpreted as the shooter playing god, enjoying the reprieving as much as the dispatching? I would have thought that a much more interesting investigation of the representation of traumatic experience would be to never show us the shooters. But this, I guess, would have taken us out of the mainstream. I recognise the dilemma but I don’t think it is ever confronted either in the statement or in the screen material.
Contributors’ Rejoinder to Peer Reviews
Because the submission was seeking formative feedback, we have allowed the contributors to respond to the peer-reviews:
We thank the reviewers for their time and considered responses to our formative submission. In the eight months since this was written the film has now been completed and is seeking representation at international festivals. For this submission it should be noted that as a work-in-progress we were not, as Reviewer 1 indicates, intending to “paint a perfectly clear and compelling picture”. The project at this point was still evolving and has now embraced much more of the strategies we have outlined, including brief reflective interviews with some of our key fictional characters at the beginning and end of the narrative to foreground the traumatic effects of their experiences.
Hence, the nature of this submission as an incomplete film is to provide representative evidence of the theoretical and praxiological directions we were taking, anticipating useful “formative” feedback. The purpose of providing the three chosen sequences from 03:45 to 06:55 (foyer shootings, lecture room, and death imprint) was to demonstrate the effects of the sudden interruption of violence. These sequences are intended to render this both conventionally and non-conventionally via audio-visual strategies of defamiliarization in order to invoke the rupture of trauma and its legacy. As Reviewer 1 notes, the submission is necessarily “gestural” as an incomplete, work-in-progress. It is doubly gestural in that the themes and issues raised are approached in a deliberately non-didactic narrative way.
It is interesting that Reviewer 1 presents as our claim that “the focus on the two cowering girls represents a departure from conventional narratives on the topic.” Our point is precisely that the effect of defamiliarization is not created by the image of the girls “cowering” in terror, but by the ambiguity of the killer’s actions (and non-actions) and his inexplicable departure. Reviewer 2’s criticism and assertion that this sequence portrayed the “intentionality” of the shooters is surprising, since the behind-the-scenes interviews and supporting text make it clear that any intention on the killers’ part was deliberately avoided, precisely to give audiences the uncertainty that victims themselves face in such circumstances, both at the time and in the period that follows. Indeed, Reviewer 2’s interpretation that the shooter was “playing god” is only one of any number of potential motivations that a viewer or survivor may infer from their respective points of view.
We state clearly that the strategy was to make an accessible, mainstream short drama that incorporated experimental elements, including problematizing traumatic response and the defamiliarization of violence. In our written statement, we position the opening sequence from the public safety video Run.Hide.Fight as an illustration of movie conventions of characters instantly reacting to gun violence. Furthermore, in relation to our short narrative drama we present as a key research question: “how might screen fiction embed and impart useful behavioural strategies in a non-didactic manner that complements public service/educational programs such as Run.Hide.Fight.”
Stuart Bender (Curtin University) & Mick Broderick (Murdoch University), March 2014. Readers are free to contact the authors for a password-protected link to the final 18 minute film at: info@EXcursionFilm.com
The contributors were seeking formative feedback and for this reason we have made the decision to both publish the work, even though it received mixed reviews, and to allow the contributors to respond to the reviews. We feel that this offers a unique insight into the creative research process which is rarely afforded by the traditional peer-review process and we very much hope that it will be taken in the spirit of open peer review.