By Eric Horng
CHICAGO (WLS) — The Showtime documentary “16 Shots” premiered in Chicago Tuesday night.
A year ago, filmmaker Richard Rowley was able to sell a documentary to the cable network about the 2014 fatal shooting of Chicago teenager Laquan McDonald by police officer Jason Van Dyke.
When the filming of “Blue Wall” was finished, there was no trial date set for Van Dyke, Lori Lightfoot was a local lawyer holding public meetings on police reform, and Rahm Emanuel was considered a lock to run for a third term as mayor. Rowley convinced Showtime to allow additional filming.
Renamed “16 Shots,” Rowley’s documentary now includes scenes from inside the courtroom, exultant community activists outside City Hall as Van Dyke’s guilty verdict is read and a somber post-trial interview with the ex-cop’s lawyer.
The story was familiar yet fresh to those in the audience at the premiere who lived it.
“We fought for Laquan McDonald, not just one person but the city of Chicago as a whole. We fought for Laquan,” said activist William Calloway.
The documentary was co-produced by journalist Jamie Kalven, whose stories on the presence of dashcam video recording and Laquan’s autopsy report, which showed the teen had been shot in the back, were instrumental in getting the video released to the public.
“Sometimes you actually lose perspective rather than gain it when you have that tsunami of coverage, so this is an effort to sort of step back,” Kalven said.
The film, which runs 90 minutes, features interviews with key figures like former Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy, and father and son Jose and Xavier Torres, who witnessed the shooting, testified at trial, and were interviewed for the film.
“When it comes to minorities and the police department, it’s got to change. It’s been sad for a long time, and hopefully this will help heal the city,” Jose said.
“It’s going to open some eyes and show people what really happened and what we should do, what steps we should take,” said Xavier.
Van Dyke was not interviewed, but his attorney Dan Herbert was.
“This movie is a start of the conversation to show that there’s a lot of factors that went into this, and it’s not all on the shoulders of Jason Van Dyke,” Herbert said.
Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel declined to be in the film, which ultimately asks, was there a coverup?
“This was sort of standard operating procedure, and that’s the story we tell,” Kalven said.
Reviews Tuesday night were largely positive, including from Herbert. During the screening there were various reactions: applause, laughter, tears.
The premiere will be followed by a post-screening discussion with director Rick Rowley, producer Jacqueline Soohen, civilian witness to the shooting Jose Torres. Invisible Institute founder Jamie Kalven and community activist William Callaway, who were both instrumental in getting the video released, will also participate in the discussion.
Laquan McDonald’s family was invited to the screening, but ABC7 did not see them. The documentary will air on Showtime on June 14.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.