AURORA | As city officials wrap up the process of nailing down an artist to craft a permanent memorial for the victims of the 2012 Aurora theater shooting next week, moviegoers in New York and San Francisco will have the chance to witness a fictionalized version of the events that immediately preceded the massacre through the lens of screenwriter and director Tim Sutton.
Sutton’s film “Dark Night,” a fictionalized account of the mass shooting that left 12 people dead and injured more than 70 others, opens to national audiences in New York and San Francisco Feb. 3. The film will be shown at select theaters in cities across the country, including Littleton, throughout the spring.
After the film premiered at the SunDance Film Festival in Park City, Utah early last year, the Los Angels-based film distribution company Cinelicious Pics acquired the film in September, according to the entertainment news website IndieWire.
The film is not meant to directly represent the rampage that occurred during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” at a movie theater across from the Aurora Municipal Center July 20, 2012, according to the director. Filmed in Sarasota, Florida, the action follows six individuals, including the shooter, the day before an attack at a movie theater, according to the Cinelicious website.
“The film itself is fiction and deals w(ith) violence in…diverse ways to create a look at the times we live in,” Sutton wrote on Twitter last month. “It is not made as a glorification or insensitive film.”
But the movie has not been impervious to criticism.
Sutton’s tweets, dated Jan. 15, were in response to critical statements sent to Sutton from a man who identified himself to be the father of the youngest victim of the theater shooting, 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan.
“How about you find a way to get in touch with me,” Ian Sullivan tweeted at Sutton. “Given you feel it necessary to make a movie about my daughters (sic) murder!”
Sutton has engaged with other Twitter users who were also critical of the film.
In a Feb. 2 interview, Sutton said he apologizes to anyone who is offended by the film.
“People are coming across it on Twitter or Facebook, and if that hurts people who have been directly affected by Aurora and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ shooting … I want to say that I apologize from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “The movie is not supposed to be incendiary … it is not supposed to be hurtful, but it is supposed to be a challenge and a challenging film to the American culture at large.”
Sutton, who lives in Brooklyn, New York and teaches as an adjunct professor at The New School, said he purposefully didn’t contact victims of the shooting because he didn’t “want to exploit the people’s lives who were directly affected.”
He added that he didn’t include any acts of violence in the film — the credits roll before any attack takes place — in order to try and leave the audience in limbo.
“I didn’t want any mistake that I was sensationalizing violence or romanticizing the killer in any way,” Sutton said. “There is no catharsis … you walk out of that movie still having to deal with the fact that an act of violence can happen at any time.”
Following screenings at several festivals in the past year, “Dark Night” has largely been met with favorable reviews from critics.
In a roundup of SunDance favorites from last year’s festival, New York Times movie critic Manohla Dargis called the film a “drifty, conceptual exploration of a mass shooting.”
Despite the social media condemnation, Sutton said he stands by the film’s relevance and necessity.
“Right before it premiered at SunDance, San Bernardino happened and right before we premiered at another festival Orlando happened,” he said. “It feels like the film should still be made and the conversation should still be going on.”
Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex, was killed in the Aurora theater shooting, said he doesn’t have a problem with the film being made and he’s optimistic it will spur more conversations regarding gun safety.
“It’s someone’s interpretation, you know, of what they think kind of led up to it, but I don’t have a problem with it,” Sullivan said. “Hopefully there will be a conversation about it and maybe someone will see smoothing in the way the thing is portrayed and think that they may have a friend who may be acting like that, or maybe someone will see it and decide that, ‘hey we need to take an action, we need to do something.’”
The film will be screened locally Feb. 24 at the Alamo Drafthouse in Littleton.