The shootings at Virginia Tech shocked a nation, but will their aftermath continue to cause havoc? As a nation asks “why” and starts to formulate theories, one independent film may be about to find itself a victim of its own subject matter.
Debuting at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, director Shi-Zheng Chen’s “Dark Matter” tells the story of a gifted Chinese physics student, Liu Xing, and his rise-and-fall on a college campus. Beginning as a brilliant rising star, he quickly dwarves all those around him, including his professors, who then conspire to keep him from gaining the notoriety he is due as a physicist. The film culminates in a scene of extreme violence when a despondent Liu Xing goes to class, and shoots his college classmates.
Stating itself as based on a true story, the film gained high praise at the 2007 Sundance, winning the Alfred P. Sloan Prize, which brought in a nice $20,000 gift. Everything was looking golden, and the feature began its film festival circuit, playing across the United States, with the hopes of possible distribution and theatrical release sometime in August. Now?
Beyond the surface similarities involved with a shooting on a college and the one doing the shooting being Asian, this film should have nothing to worry about, right? For one, the Virginia Tech shooter was a South Korean English major who had lived in America the majority of his life, not a Chinese physicist in America specifically for his studies. But history has shown that even though films should have no problem, that isn’t necessarily so.
Take for instance Tim Blake Nelson’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” Entitled “O,” the film was a contemporary re-imagining of the classic play, set in a high school. As most Shakespearean tragedies are wont to do, this one gets violent by the end. Picked up by Miramax, “O” was set for distribution in 1999… and then Columbine happened, where two teenagers going to Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado decided to attend class with an arsenal of guns and kill as many classmates as they could. As a peripheral result, “O” not only didn’t come out in 1999, it was shelved until 2001 and eventually released by Lions Gate.
You can almost predict a similar fate for “Dark Matter.” For festivals yet to program, the film’s climax may seem a bit too on the nose, especially right now. If you’re a distributor, you’ve got to be thinking about whether or not anyone would want to see a film with that ending, let alone even pay for it. So, maybe you pass on it for a while. Or maybe you pick it up, but only if the filmmaker will change the ending. The film is quality, sure, but not right now.
Unfortunately for “Dark Matter,” it’s not like “O.” It doesn’t have a Miramax or Lions Gate behind it that’s going to wait until the right time to release it. Like many independent films, its timeline is now, and it’s running down. The average life of an indie film on the festival circuit is two years. “Dark Matter” may be on its way to an early exit.
If you’re shaking your head “no,” if you think we’re too enlightened in this day and age to connect dots so far apart on sheer surface similarity and react, I wish I could say I agree with you. Unfortunately, within hours of the Virginia Tech tragedy, I was watching Jack Thompson’s newest attack on violent videogames, and reading Debbie Schlussel try to reason how, since the shooter was reported as Asian (they hadn’t released any details beyond that at that point), he was probably Pakistani, as they can be considered Asian, and if he’s Pakistani then he’s probably Muslim and somehow this all means that we need to shut our borders to foreign students. And if unbelievable flawed leaps in logic like that can occur on a successful blog (Debbie almost won a Weblog award for her blog in 2005… then again, it was for Best Conservative Blog), then “Dark Matter” doesn’t have a prayer.
So why point it out? If I keep my mouth shut, maybe no one knows about “Dark Matter” and the vague similarities. Because that’s a problem too. Festival programmers, distributors, film fans… you need to know that this film exists, and that this film could be set for an unfair uphill battle. You need to know so you can be informed, so you can let the world know that, so what, this film deserves to be seen. Don’t let “Dark Matter” become a victim. You’re all on notice.
- Mark Bell, Editor-in-Continued Disbelief
Watch the trailer for “Dark Matter” and then talk about “Dark Matter,” art imitating life imitating art or the Virginia Tech shootings and their fallout over in Film Threat’s Back Talk. Thanks to Zack Haddad for pointing out the “Dark Matter” similarities.
Posted on April 24, 2007 in Features by Mark Bell
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