On Dec. 11, 2012, Skye Fitzgerald was planning to take his son Christmas shopping at Clackamas Town Center.
"For whatever reason, the universe nudged me away from it, and I decided I was going to do something else instead," remembers the Portland documentary filmmaker. That same day, a shooter entered the mall with an assault-style rifle and killed Cindy Yuille, a hospice nurse, and Steve Forsyth, who sold custom-made wooden coasters at Clackamas.
"I'd been a gun owner the bulk of my life, but I'd never really examined that on any deep level," Fitzgerald says. "So when I almost took my 2-year-old son to Clackamas Town Center during the time when the shooting happened, I started to think about it a different way, and I started to ask questions I hadn't asked before, and that was literally the catalyst for the entire film."
The movie in question is 101 Seconds, which will premiere at this year's Portland International Film Festival. The documentary chronicles the debate on gun control that erupted in Oregon in the wake of Clackamas and the Sandy Hook massacre, which occurred three days later. It follows Yuille's daughter, Jenna, her stepfather, Robert, and Forsyth's brother-in-law, Paul Kemp, as they advocate for more vigilant gun control laws in Oregon.
While the film plunged Fitzgerald into the midst of the gun control-versus-gun rights debate, he argues that he "didn't set out to make a film about guns at all. I set out to make a film about the impact that a single act of gun violence has on families who are deeply impacted by it." He says he developed trusting relationships with the film's pro-gun control voices, including Jenna Yuille and Oregon state Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland).
101 Seconds also delves into the lives of some of Oregon's Second Amendment rights activists. Unfortunately, their involvement in the film didn't go as smoothly. Chris Cochran and Michelle Finn, two Second Amendment advocates who appear in the film, withdrew from the project during filmming.
Fitzgerald has made a career of gritty documentaries like his acclaimed 50 Feet From Syria and Peace Commands, during the filming for which he ran from "soldiers chasing me along roads in Central Africa." But Fitzgerald say that 101 Seconds was one of the most difficult films he's made. "Just because something's hard doesn't mean it's not worthwhile," he says. "I would actually propose that for something to be worthwhile, it probably has to be hard. Because those are the things that take real effort and may have the potential to make real change."
But for the most part, Fitzgerald says he's profoundly grateful for many of the experiences he had while making 101 Seconds, including an extensive interview with Stephen King about his book Guns and witnessing Jenna Yuille emerge as an activist force who moved to Washington, D.C., to work for Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun-safety advocacy group founded by Gabby Giffords.
"It was an honor," Fitzgerald says of his experience following Yuille's journey. "What I bore witness to was a young woman in terrible pain at the beginning who was still coming to grips with the loss of her mother through senseless violence" and found "that she wasn't going to allow that grief to shape her in a negative way."
In that spirit of sending a positive message, Fitzgerald chose to end the film with the signing of Oregon's 2015 background-check bill "to leave the viewer with that sense that even with this entrenched issue that we face in America with the never-ending series of shootings, it is possible for the individual to do something."
SEE IT: 101 Seconds screens at 6 pm Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Laurelhurst Theater, 2735 E Burnside St., and at 4:30 pm Sunday, Feb. 18, at NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave., nwfilm.org. $12.