EXCLUSIVE: Newtown filmmakers Kim Snyder and Maria Cuomo Cole, whose documentary chronicles the pain and suffering of the parents of murdered children Daniel Barden, Benjamin Wheeler and Dylan Hockley in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, have pulled their feature documentary from Cinemark Theaters to stand in unison with the Aurora theater shooting families.
The film was to be released in about 500 theaters across the country. The well-reviewed film is already eligible for an Oscar, having had its qualifying run for the feature documentary category earlier this year. It is now opening November 2 in a one-night-only event across the country in AMC, Regal, Wehrenberg, and indie theaters — but not in any Cinemark locations.
Newtown was to open in 100-plus of Cinemark’s theaters in cities including Los Angeles, Tucson, Detroit, Albuquerque, Ann Arbor and in Texas, where Cinemark is based. Fathom Events, a Colorado-based event marketing company, handled the booking but it is understood that Cinemark came to them (Cinemark hired a crisis PR person in the wake of not only the shooting and an ongoing controversy that resulted in a nationwide boycott).
A boycott began against Cinemark Theaters — which also operates under the Century, Tinsletown USA, Rave, and CineArts monikers — when the exhibitor asked victims of the theater shooting to pay $700K in legal fees to reimburse them for a failed lawsuit. In the state of Colorado, when a plaintiff sues and loses, they are liable for the legal fees. And, in this case, the plaintiffs were theater shooting victims who sued the exhibitor for not keeping their patrons safe. They lost after a jury determined that Cinemark could not have foreseen the shooting. However, key evidence sent to exhibitors two months prior to the July 20, 2012 shooting via Homeland Security (which warned theaters of a possible terrorist attack) was not allowed into evidence.
The victims who Cinemark were demanding money from included those paralyzed and in wheelchairs, some with spinal cord injuries and others with brain injuries, parents of murdered children who heroically saved the lives of others, and one former military man who used his body as a human shield to save another and was shot twice. The single father of two small children now lives in constant pain and can barely walk. His name is Josh Nowlan.
Cinemark told the victims that if they dropped their appeal that they would then no longer seek the $700K. Some of them said no — Mr. Nowlan, another boy, Stefan Moton, who was an 18 year-old former kickboxer and is now paralyzed from the neck down, Ashley Moser, the mother of Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6, and the youngest victim of the July 20, 2012 Dark Knight Rises shooting. Moser was also catastrophically injured; she miscarried her second child (she had found out the same day that she was shot that she was pregnant). She still has a bullet lodged in her spine and is now paralyzed from the chest down.
After Cinemark demanded payment, a boycott against the theater chain started across the country with #boycottcinemark tags on Twitter and Facebook. Even California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom asked for a boycott against the exhibitor for going after the injured in Aurora.
The Newton filmmakers’ actions came as a result of a call from Sandy Phillips, the mother of the late Jessica Ghawi (killed in the Aurora massacre) who asked the director to rethink putting the film into Cinemark Theaters. Phillips found out about it through the vast network of gun violence survivors. Sandy Hook parents whose children were murdered also asked the filmmakers to stand with their Aurora family (mass shooting families and victims of gun violence are a tight-knit group).
“Cinemark has proven their insensitivity to victims of gun violence,” said Phillips, whose daughter was only 24 when she was slaughtered inside the theater along with 11 others and an unborn baby. Seventy others were physically injured.
“They still have not announced safety measures and, in fact, people with guns have been able to go into Cinemark theaters after Aurora which we all find unconscionable,” she said. “Cinemark really doesn’t get what they are up against. Gun violence victims stand united from coast to coast. We are a force, and we do not waiver. We thank the Newtown filmmakers and love our Sandy Hook family.”
“We made a film to honor the children and educators who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, their families and the community of Newtown, and to show how gun violence impacts not just individuals but an entire community.” said the filmmakers in a statement to Deadline. “Out of respect for the families of the Aurora victims and with solidarity for the community as a whole, our decision to remove the film from playing in all Cinemark theaters is unequivocal.”
Twenty-six people were murdered in the Sandy Hook shooting — 2o children and six educators. The film was produced by Maria Cuomo Cole and directed by Kim Snyder. After critical raves out of Sundance where it debuted, Abramorama released the film in NY on October 7.
Following the screening of the film, there will be a livestream Town Hall conversation moderated by CNN’s Chris Cuomo. The panel discussion will include several members of the Newtown community and will engage a dialogue around the issues of gun violence, trauma and the response afterwards.
Anita Busch contributed to this report.