A planned movie that references the Sandy Hook school shootings has sparked outrage in the Connecticut suburbs and elsewhere, but inaccurate reports and sensationalist headlines may be fanning the flames.
The controversy began with a report from News 12 Connecticut, which stated that a director named Jonathan Bucari was scouting locations in the town of Ridgefield, Conn., about 20 miles southwest of Newtown.
An article published Sunday on News 12’s website opened with the following lead: “A Hollywood director is in Ridgefield today preparing to shoot a made-for-TV movie about the Newtown massacre.”
But it turns out that the “Hollywood director” in question is an unknown filmmaker based in Brewster, N.Y., who was planning to shoot a low-budget short film about mental illness, not a “made-for-TV movie about the Newtown massacre,” as the article states. Bucari is seeking to raise $3,000 on crowd-funding website Indiegogo for a movie called “Illness,” which references the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School as a catalyst for its story.
According to the movie’s description on the website, “’Illness’ is a story about the tragic fate of Benjamin, a 13-year-old boy with a terrible mental illness and the ever-growing fear of his parents after they learn about the shooting in Newtown in December 2012.’”
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According to the Indiegogo campaign, the filmmakers’ goal is to submit the film to the 2013 Cannes Film Festival for the short-film competition. Based on sheer number of submissions Cannes receives, its odds of being accepted are about 1 in 450.
It’s unclear where News 12 got the idea that Bucari was planning a TV movie. Phone calls and emails to the station requesting more information were not returned. However, the article gained traction early this week when the Associated Press picked up the story, citing the News 12 report as a source. Many outlets ran the AP story under headlines suggesting that a TV movie about the killings was in the works. (Said the New York Daily News: “Director planning movie about Sandy Hook school massacre.”)
Connecticut residents, particularly in Ridgefield, were understandably outraged. Rudy Marconi, Ridgefield’s first selectman, told local newspapers and radio stations that he will do everything in his power to stop the production, which would need a permit to shoot legally.
Following the outrage, Bucari posted on the movie’s Facebook page attempting to clarify his intent: “We are not doing a movie about what happened in Newtown and will never do so,” the post stated. “We are doing a nonprofit film about mental illness. Our objective is to help families with kids struggling with mental illness. I thank you again for all your support.”
The controversy did not end, however. Twitter users spent much of the day Monday voicing their objections, tweeting to Bucari’s account that it is “too soon” for a movie about Newtown. (Conversely, one user seemed to see an audition opportunity, tweeting, “How will you go about casting the children for this? Does my child have to have an agent or agency?”) At last check, Bucari’s Twitter account seems to have been deleted. The film’s Facebook page has also been taken down. The Indiegogo campaign remains, but as of Wednesday morning, it had only raised $610 of the $3,000 it needs. The campaign has only 13 days to go.
Multiple attempts to contact Bucari directly were unsuccessful, and a phone number for his production company, Demian Pictures, has been disconnected. In an email message, a spokesperson for Demian Pictures said the filmmakers are not commenting at this time as an effort to “protect our cast and the people associated with the film.” The spokesperson stressed that the film is “not about Sandy Hook nor a reenactment of any kind” but declined to comment further.
Considering the magnitude of the school shooting that left 20 children and 6 adults dead, it’s only a matter of time before the Sandy Hook massacre is referenced in fictional media. The question of “How soon is too soon?” is, of course, subject to interpretation, but if history is any guide, the answer may be sooner rather than later. Consider that it took the creators of “South Park” only two months to reference 9/11 in the episode entitled “Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants,” which aired on Nov. 11, 2001.
IBTimes uncovered a production listing for “Illness,” which was published Jan. 28 in the Mercury Production Report. The listing confirms that the project was intended to be a low-budget short film, not a TV movie. The one-sentence synopsis in the listing makes no mention of the Sandy Hook shootings.
As of Wednesday, the first two paragraphs of News 12’s original report remained on its website, with the bulk of the article locked behind a paywall. Meanwhile, reports identifying the film as being “related to the Sandy Hook shootings” have begun to pour in, although some outlets -- like Time magazine -- are still calling it a made-for-TV movie.
The Huffington Post continued to fan the flames on Twitter Wednesday morning, posting a link to an article about the film along with the following tweet: “Too soon for a Newtown movie?”