Slamdance documentary takes a look ‘Behind the Bullet’
Author Heidi Yewman has been fascinated by gun ownership and gun violence.
Her interest in the topic of gun violence started with a funeral in Colorado.
She had graduated from Columbine High School 13 years Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked through its front doors and began shooting. One of the victims that day was Dave Sanders, who coached Yewman in basketball and in typing.
“When I sat at his funeral, something snapped as I was witnessing my former teachers’ red and swollen eyes, and I knew I had to do something,” she said.
In 2009, she published a book: “Behind the Bullet: Personal Stories of Gun Violence Aftermath.”
Four years later, she bought a gun. Yewman obtained a concealed carry permit as part of a four-part blog for “Ms. Magazine,” called “My Month with a Gun.”
Her interest in these topics has translated into filmmaking, and her documentary “Behind the Bullet” is set to screen at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival.
The film’s world premiere is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 25, at the Treasure Mountain Inn Gallery, 255 Main St. An additional screening will be held at 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 29.
The documentary’s angle is different from the book in that it approaches gun violence from the perspective of the shooter, Yewman said.
“I felt like we keep having the same conversation about gun violence, and typically the conversations are around victims and people who have either survived or lost loved ones, which is important,” she said. “But as I thought about it, no one is really talking about the shooters. I wanted to ask what happens to them when they bring a gun into their homes for self-defense, and then have to use it the way they had intended.”
Friday, Jan. 25, 1:15 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 29, 1:15 p.m.
Treasure Mountain Inn Gallery, 255 Main St.
Yewman found four people who were willing to tell their stories to her for the film. They had either shot and killed in self-defense, were involved in an accidental shooting or had unintentionally killed someone with their gun.
Yewman found one of her subjects, a man named Kevin Leonard, through a National Rifle Association website.
“Kevin shot and killed a home intruder and the (NRA) website touted what he did as a heroic thing,” Yewman said. “I wanted his story to serve as an example of how a gun in your home can save your family, and I wanted to dig a little deeper and find out how it affected him.”
The filmmaker found the other three subjects through different searches and contacts.
“There were several people who I called who hung up on me, yelled me and said ‘how dare I do this,’” Yewman said. “That’s why I’m so grateful to the four people who were willing to share their story and show their vulnerability and heartaches.”
In order to get her subjects to talk candidly on camera, Yewman had to build trusting relationships.
“I met with each of them in person, and learned about their lifestyles, even went to church with two of them to build their confidence,” Yewman said. “I also tried to go into the interviews with a blank slate. I wanted to learn about them and their experiences while leaving my own biases at the door.”
The filmmaker found when these people started talking, all of their stories were about moral injury and overcoming trauma.
“We typically use the word ‘perpetrator’ when we think of a shooter, but in all of these cases, they were certainly victimized by their own actions,” she said.
Filming “Behind the Bullet” changed Yewman’s personal views about guns, and helped her develop a level of empathy that surprised her.
“Like many people, I get caught up in the black and white of the issue – the pro-gun, anti-gun or good-guy-with-a-gun versus the bad-guy-with-a-gun mantras,” she said. “Before I did the film, I would have categorized Kevin one way, because he lives in rural America and has a lot of guns. But that’s not who he is. I understand his situation, and I feel really bad for him because he’s struggling with overcoming it.
“He’s a really kind man who was in an unfortunate situation.”
Some of the interviews were incredibly challenging because of the subjects’ emotions.
“When I talk with people, I like to reach out and pat their shoulders if they are talking about a difficult experience, but as a filmmaker, I couldn’t do that,” Yewman said. “There were a couple of incidents where some people had a difficult time to talk, so we had to stop the interviews and check with them before we continued. And the difficulties comes from the guilt, shame and sadness that comes with some of these cases.”
Yewman said it’s such an honor to be at Slamdance this year.
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