Inside D.C. entertainment

Sundance 2011: A Virginia Tech massacre survivor hits Capitol Hill

January 25, 2011 - 12:32 PM
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Living for 32
Colin Goddard, who survived the Virginia Tech massacre.

Colin Goddard, now 25, considers himself lucky that he was in French class at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007. "I was in the right place at the right time," he says early in Living for 32, a documentary short in competition here at Sundance. "I was in class." It's hard to see how he was lucky to be there, as he would be shot four times that morning by Seung-Hui Cho, the student who killed 32 people before committing suicide. But Goddard, who was the only person in the building to call 911, certainly was lucky to survive, and the gun control movement is lucky to have him — a young, well-spoken survivor and former ROTC major willing to be the face of one of the deadliest single-gunman shootings in American history.

Kevin Breslin, the film's director, first met Goddard through producer Maria Cuomo Cole, who asked Breslin to shoot a public service announcement about Goddard for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Breslin, a 50-year-old New Yorker who makes a living shooting commercials and industrial films, made the PSA and immediately decided it could be a movie. "I turned to Maria and I said, 'This would be some great documentary,'" he recalls. "We'd already begun it, ostensibly, right there."

Goddard consented, but took some warming up. At first, he wasn't interested in talking about the massacre — let alone returning to Virginia Tech — or about whether he was angry. "There was no extra tears or banging his fist on the table, no pronouncements," Breslin says. "He had trouble talking about guns." Over time, Goddard became comfortable enough to discuss Cho (whom he'd previously called, simply, "the shooter") and even return to the building where his classmates were gunned down. "When you're going to college," as Breslin says, "you're not expecting to get shot in class. When you go back to Norris Hall and walk through this place, as he did, you go, 'This is insane. This shouldn't have happened.'"

Goddard decided "he wasn't going to be labeled a shooting victim" and began working with the Brady Campaign to promote stricter gun control — not an outright ban, but rather saner laws. In Living for 32, which was shortlisted for an Oscar but wasn't nominated today, he goes undercover to expose the gun show loophole, filming himself as he buys semiautomatics with nothing more than a temporary driver's license — a sheet of paper anyone could photocopy — or sometimes with nothing at all. Knowing the loophole exists doesn't make these scenes any less infuriating to watch, especially when we read about gun deaths in the paper every day.

After the recent Arizona shooting, Breslin called Goddard "and he couldn't talk for almost a day because he was in shock. You don't have a flashback, but you do have some sort of emotional thing that happens to you. These are disasters in this country, and they affected him, and then he got back on his horse and got out there yelling in Washington."

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