‘Peace Officer’ will cap the 10th annual Filmmakers Showcase
November 10, 2015
When the documentary "Peace Officer" won the South by Southwest Film Festival’s Grand Jury and Audience Award earlier this year, it was the cherry on top of an eventful 2½ years for Provo-based filmmakers Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber.
The two had collaborated on the project, which centered around William "Dub" Lawrence, a former Davis County sheriff who established and trained Utah’s first SWAT team, only to see that same unit kill his son-in-law Brian Wood in a controversial standoff 30 years later.
The film examined that case and the cases of others who have experienced similar incidents. It also takes a look at the trend of militarizing the police.
"This is the first feature-length that Scott and I have ever directed," Barber said during a join interview with Christopherson during a telephone call to The Park Record. "We were surprised that it got into South by Southwest to begin with, let alone winning an award there."
"Winning at South by Southwest has helped people take notice of the film and helped us distribute the film," he said.
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"Peace Officer" will serve as the finale for the 10th annual Filmmakers Showcase in the Jim Santy Auditorium on Sunday, Nov. 15, at 6 p.m. The screening is free and open to the public. (See story titled "Filmmakers Showcase celebrates the big 10")
Utah Film Commissioner Virginia Pearce will introduce the film and Barber and Christopherson will hold a Q and A session following the screening.
"I’m excited for the opportunity to do this," Christopherson said. "Virginia Pearce is a good friend of mine and it’s always great anytime I can screen a film in Utah."
Christopherson is also looking forward to seeing the Park City audience’s reaction.
"When we did the premiere at the Tower Theatre earlier this year, we had 300 people there and there was this electric atmosphere," he said. "Since the story takes place in Utah, I think the people want to hear what’s going on in the community and I can’t think of a better place like the Filmmaker’s Showcase."
The film’s idea started when Christopherson met Lawrence at a softball game.
"At the end of the game and he told me about some film footage he wanted me to edit," Christopherson said. "He showed me a two-hour long analysis about his son-in-law’s shooting death in a police raid gone bad."
The raid occurred in 2008 and Lawrence had been obsessed with gathering and documenting all of the information he could about the raid.
The footage fascinated Christopherson and he mentioned it to Barber as the two took a road trip to film another project in Portland, Oregon.
"That’s when we decided to do a film about Dub," Christopherson said.
Over the next 30 months, the filmmakers worked and saw the film take on a life of its own.
"We didn’t start off doing a film about the militarization of the police, but rather, it evolved from Dub’s obsession and charisma into a fascinating story," Christopherson said.
The filmmakers and their crews would follow Lawrence to different gatherings in Utah, and met a variety of people who worked their way into the film.
"I think Dub is a very altruistic person and has skills from his career investigating crime scenes," Barber said. "He would befriend people and family members who had similar experiences as he did, whether they lost a child or family members in situations involving the police."
The filming began in 2012.
"We were only attracted to Dub’s story, and in no way could have predicted the events that happened in Ferguson and elsewhere that would bring the topic into a bigger, national conversation," Barber said.
"However, before Ferguson happened, we knew we wanted to make sure the story had a national angle," Christopherson said.
That’s why they introduced Washington Post blogger Radley Balko, the author of "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces."
"He gives a prominent expert voice to the national picture," Christopherson said.
One of the statistics from Balko that surprised Barber and Christopherson was the increase of SWAT raids since the 1970s.
"They have increased to 16,000 percent," Christopherson said. "What was even more shocking to me was the frequency of how many of these raids are used as merely an investigative tool."
"I didn’t know about the no-knock search warrants and knock-and-announce search warrants," Barber said. "I didn’t know SWAT teams were used for search warrants, period. So, I think people who watch this film will be surprised at how these policies have slowly been enacted in the past couple of decades."
While many documentary films are made with an agenda, Barber and Christopherson approached this project with a clean slate and tried to make sure the film was balanced.
"It was important to have the police’s perspective of how it feels to go on these raids as well as the people who were on the receiving end of the raids," Christopherson said. "Dub was the perfect subject, because he had been part of both sides, but we also made a conscious effort to empathize with all parties involved."
In addition to the South by Southwest awards, "Peace Officer" has since won
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival’s Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights, Montclair Film Festival’s David Carr Award for Truth in Nonfiction Filmmaking and Audience Awards.
"Dub called film festivals the courts of public opinion," Christopherson said. "So, it was good to see these people, who have tried to maneuver the legal system and failed, to finally get their day in the court of public opinion.
"It gives these families a bigger microphone to stories that haven’t been heard before," he said. "As documentary filmmakers, we want to help get these stories heard."
The 10th Annual Filmmaker’s Showcase will present a free screening of Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson’s documentary "Peace Officer," not rated, at the Jim Santy Auditorium of the Park City Library, 1255 Park Ave., on Sunday, Nov. 15. For more information, visit http://www.parkcityfilmseries.org .
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