Mike B. Rollen, a local cinematographer, set out to make a film that measures the toll of urban violence. He took his camera into living rooms and funeral parlors to show that Kansas City's murder rate is more than just a number and a ribbon of police tape on the 10 o'clock news.
Rollen encountered a number of people whose family lives are haunted by street violence. "One lady in the film, her daughter's father was killed, her brother was killed, and when I interviewed her, it was two days after her son was killed," Rollen says. "All murdered in Kansas City. And all the those cases at the time were unsolved."
Rollen's documentary, Kansas City Murder Factory, will show on Monday at 7:45 p.m. at the Glenwood Arts during the Kansas International Film Festival.
"A big challenge that I wanted to do was go beyond the soundbite," says Rollen, who studied under Ben Meade at Avila University. Rollen is originally from St. Louis. He moved to the area six years ago to work as a producer at KMJK 107.3-FM.
The film takes its name from a January 2009 series in The Kansas City Star, which identified the 64130 zip code as a "murder factory." Rollen says awareness of the problem of urban violence has not resulted in sufficient action. "Where is the outrage? Why aren't we doing more? When has 100 homicides in your city become acceptable?"
Rollen hopes that his film will add a new dimension to the discussion. In addition to interviewing victims' families, Rollen spent time with people and groups trying to make a difference, such as Gentlemen of the Roundtable, an outreach for young men. (Pitch staff writer Peter Rugg is also interviewed.)
As for practical solutions, Rollen says he would like to see the city work harder to implement the recommendations of the Commission on Violent Crime, which came together after the city recorded 127 homicides in 2005.
Rollen also believes the Kansas City Police Department could make an effort to be more respectful and communicative. He met one woman who says her grandson lay dead in the street for seven hours before his body was taken to the coroner's office.
"She knew it was him, because she could still see what he was wearing to school. They [the police] just put something over him, but she could still see his shoes," he says.
"The police are going to say, 'We have to preserve the evidence,' but they [victims' relatives] feel that there is, I guess, a disrespect, you know, not taking the family's feelings into consideration, calling them back, telling them about their case, telling them, 'This is an update' or 'We don't have any news.'"
Here's the trailer for Murder Factory: