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Documentary Review: VISTA

VISTA
Directed by: Patrick Michaud
Starring: Antoine Cherchian, Cameron Foster, Alexander Kurdian, and Sgt. Riley Harwood


On May 23, 2014, six students at UCSB were killed and fourteen others were injured by Elliot Rodger, who went on a drive-by shooting spree in Isla Vista, California, exchanging gunfire with police before committing suicide in his crashed SUV. In his last YouTube video minutes prior to the shooting, he announced his hatred of women for sexually rejecting him, and outlined his immediate plans for violence and retribution upon the world at large.

Of course, while watching this new documentary film, you’ll miss out on all the particulars, because the filmmakers have greater intentions than simply reliving the horrifying details of the 2014 Isla Vista shooting. Instead, VISTA aims to recover the personal experiences of the first-hand witnesses of the shooting, and focus on the narratives of the victims rather than solely on the perpetrator. Through their stories, the film declares its intentions to stand firmly in opposition of the often harmful effects that mass media unwittingly enables in their coverage of such shootings.

Co-created by U of A graduates Patrick Michaud and Jesse Werkman and produced by Daniel Kiskaroly, the film primarily speaks with Antoine Cherchian, a UCSB student who was gravely shot by Rodger, and Xander Kurdian, Antoine’s best friend who was with him at the time. The film also looks at Cameron Foster, a nearby student who provided emergency first-aid on Antoine, and Sergeant Riley Harwood, a Santa Barbara police officer who talks about the sensationalist role of mass media in the aftermath of mass shootings in the United States.

In a lesser documentary, the film might be bogged down and suffocated by showing endless news broadcasts, morbidly fascinated with the perpetrator and his disturbing misogynist manifesto plastered across the screen. However, Michaud and Werkman make it explicitly clear to point out the toxic effects of mass media, where the morbid fascination with the shooting and the shooter drowns out the voices of the victims, and reduces them to statistics on a news scroll.

Instead, VISTA takes its time with their subjects, listening to their idiosyncratic stories of what happened on that fateful May night, how it affected them personally, and their perspectives on what transpired afterwards. The film is intercut with personal interviews and aerial shots of Isla Vista that makes it feel surprisingly peaceful and warm. Despite the runtime only lasting 30 minutes, VISTA succinctly says what it needs to say, and leaves the audience with an heartfelt sentiment to listen to the survivors’ stories.    

The documentary emerges at a unique time when the March for Our Lives movement is pushing for tighter gun control, to halt the seemingly unstoppable wave of mass shootings in the United States. While the film does not delve into American gun rights, (after all, it was made by foreign Canadian filmmakers) their message of empathy and unity extends to them nicely and not a minute too late. Overall, VISTA is a fantastic short documentary feature made by university students that empathetically explores the lives of university students, and draws attention to the problems caused by the widespread media coverage of mass shootings.        

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