On 20 April, 1999, one of the deadliest school shootings in American history occurred. There had been other school massacres before Columbine, a high school nestled in a sleepy Colorado city, but this one was different. This one, unfolded in front of the nation’s eyes. Nearly 20 years later, director Laura Farber (a survivor of the shooting, herself), brings the stories of the now adults and teachers who experienced that horrific day.
We Are Columbine doesn’t exactly fit the definition of a reflexive documentary, as Farber isn’t directly speaking to us. However, we do hear her voice, especially as the former students vouch for Farber’s trustworthiness. Since the shooting, and the ensuing media circus, many former students have been reticent to speak to anyone with a camera. But Farber is also a survivor, and she knows more than most, how to handle her peers’ sensitive stories of survival, regret, fear, trauma, and happiness.
The participating former students are Jaimi, Zach, Amy, and Gus. They’re an assortment of any high school’s teenage incubator: jocks, cheerleader, and stoner. Joining them are former teacher Mr. Leyba and principal Mr. De. Each individual recounts the events leading up to the faithful day, the calm, normal, and warm Colorado day. Each individual speaks about how they escaped or hid, how they survived and their thoughts during the shooting, such as assuming the blaring fire alarm was a senior prank, or in the case of Jaimi, wondering where her sister was.
The participants also recount their lives post-Columbine, from the pervasive and negligent media onslaught to their current state of mind. We meet their current families, know their present careers, and learn how they have since coped. Their stories don’t just ring as tragedies, but as people who have gone on to help those around them, from becoming a teacher, a nurse, an artist, they’re survival guides for life. For its participants, the film is a powerful recounting and rallying cry from the survivors which says, “We. Are. Columbine.”