Director Zachary Roberts Shares the Ups and Downs of Documenting a School Shooting His Own Brother Committed in ‘Hope’

hope doc

In 2006, a gunman named Charles Carl Roberts IV entered an Amish school house in Pennsylvania, took the students hostage and then shot ten young girls, five of whom died, before killing himself. There’s a documentary in the works about the tragedy and the aftermath simply titled Hope, and it’s currently on Indiegogo attempting to raise $120k through crowdfunding. What’s most notable about this project is that the director of the film is the gunman’s brother, Zachary Roberts, and much of the focus is on their mother, who found strength in the unbelievable forgiveness from the community and the victims’ families.

I was curious about the benefit and obstacles the filmmaker has experience in making such a personal documentary dealing with such a famous incident of this nature, as well as how he is balancing the subjective angle with some of the more objective needs for this story. Roberts graciously offered the following answers in an email to Nonfics:

“I guess the most standout pros of making a film with such a close connection is that I don’t have a barrier between me and the subject, my mother. We have always had such a great relationship. So I didn’t have to do a lot of explaining to her and getting her to find confidence in me. She had total trust in me — and then, in turn, the crew. It is a great situation to be in when making a documentary, where you basically have total access to the subject. Also, since I am a family member, I know the story very well and I feel like I have an advantage of being able to really examine the personal story of my mother as a whole and then really focus in on the things I believe are really important.

“The biggest con I would say is, given the subject matter and its proximity to me, it forces a lot of raw emotions to surface in myself. But I needed to deal with them, and making this film I believe was the right context to do this in. Also, putting a camera in my mothers face at times was quite difficult — she has suffered a great deal these past years. It wasn’t so hard I couldn’t stand it or I questioned myself in doing the film, it was more a feeling of “this is as real as it gets,” if you know what I mean.

“The subjectivity helps me because I have a duty to my family to really do justice to my mother’s story. This puts a lot of pressure on me to make the best film possible, knowing that I won’t get another chance with this story. Being objective was really assisted by the people who came along with me to help make the film. These guys were from Stockholm and they are from a very different world so their context stepping in was “let’s get the story”. They didn’t know very much about what happened, so they were able to step onto the production with a sense of curiosity. I think with my subjective point of view and their objective point of view, we were able to work on the material in a very beneficial way.”

Hope’s crowdfunding effort continues through January 4, 2014, and is a “Flexible Funding” campaign meaning the project will receive all money pledged no matter if they reach the goal. Learn more and watch the trailer on Indiegogo or the Mexico 86 production company website.

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.