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Listening to Victims: Closing thoughts on four months covering the Aurora Theatre shooting trial

When Kathleen Larimer, who lost her son, John, in the Aurora Theatre shooting, made her victim impact statement in the final days of the trial, she began by telling the judge “I am so tired of crying.” She and her husband, Scott, had been in the courtroom every day for four months, looking for answers that might help make sense of the murder of their youngest child. Over 100 people like Mrs. Larimer stood before Judge Carlos Samour in an Arapahoe County Courthouse and poured out their hearts in victim impact statements about the loss and devastation they experienced because of James Holmes.

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On July 20, 2012, I also took my teenage son to see “The Dark Knight Rises” at the midnight showing in Aurora, Colorado. Our theatre, however, was a few miles away from the Century 16. When the show was over I realized I had missed calls. Many calls. I rushed to the Century 16 Theatre to join my colleagues at NBC News in covering one of the most horrific mass shootings ever. It was so staggering in its carnage and complexity that it was difficult to get my head around it, even after covering the massacre at Columbine High School. The day of the attack was the first time victims began to tell their stories. The sentencing was the end of the three-year odyssey for those touched by the crime.

Over the months, sitting in the courtroom every day, we finally got some answers about the crime and why it happened. But even with light shed on the attack, it could not fill the dark hole in the hearts of the families who lost loved ones. Their anguish was palpable over the months.  The large family of victims held each other up, especially during the last days of the trial, when they finally told the judge, in their own powerful voices, what they experienced, and asked for a maximum sentence for the defendant who dodged the bullet of a death penalty.

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When District Attorney George Brauchler made his final argument in the case, asking the judge to show no mercy to “this guy” and give the “maximum sentence for the maximum evil,” I heard Mrs. Larimer sobbing quietly behind me. For months she and the other family members would sit across the aisle on the other side of the courtroom. I could swivel my head and observe them at key moments, document when they cried, when they glared at the defendant, when they couldn’t take it any more and left the courtroom. Listening to Mrs. Larimer cry right behind me captured my complete attention. I did not turn around to see her, but her sorrow could not be ignored and I listened.

On Wednesday, August 26, Judge Samour made his pre-sentencing comments to the court. He addressed the concerns of victims who said the trial had been a waste of time and money, as the defendant had been willing to plead guilty two years earlier to avoid the death penalty. Samour suggested they should focus on what came out of the trial rather than on regretting the decisions that were made. Then, for each of the twelve who were slain, he referred back to victim impact testimonies and specific points made about those loved and lost. Was it a waste of time when Chantal Blunk spoke about her husband, Jonathan? Was it a waste of time when Sierra Cowden talked about her dad, Gordon? Was it a waste of time when Teresa Hoover spoke about her son, AJ? What struck me as he recalled their names and remarkable lives was that the judge heard the victims. He really heard them.

Judge Samour gave the defendant one of the harshest sentences ever imposed. Twelve life sentences without the possibility of parole and an additional 3,318 years for the people he injured plus an explosives charge. Then dripping with contempt he said “Sheriff, get the defendant out of my courtroom, please.” Breaking with four months of decorum the victims cheered and applauded as James Holmes was taken from the court one last time. 1,132 days after the attack these families can now contemplate moving forward. Some have been galvanized into activism. They are fighting for common sense gun controls and working hard so that the faces of killers are not remembered long after the faces of their victims.  Many, like Kathleen Larimer, are not certain what the future holds but through her tears, she found her voice. “Now that this is over, I have to go home and live with all that emptiness, and yet somehow be happy with life going on,” she said. And when she came up to the microphone that last time, everybody listened.


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The Chinese Scam I Almost Fell For

It’s amazing the lengths people will go to to rip others off.  I recently was contacted by a Mr. Dehua from Henan Yu Xin International Co. Ltd. in Zhengzhou, China.  He emailed to say that his company was making a 20 episode series of 25 minute documentaries in HD for television broadcast.  The intention was to enlighten the Chinese audience about America’s history, economy, culture and tourism.  At first I was a bit skeptical.  How did he find me?  Was it because I did a documentary length piece on Chinese influence in the Caribbean for Dan Rather Reports?  Was it because I spent three months in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics?  Did I impress someone along the way who referred me?  I emailed him back.  He followed up with the project information.  It was in detail and he clearly understood the logistics of production.  He also informed me that they would pay $50,000 to $60,000 US per episode.  The project was a dream come true with a budget that would allow us to produce excellent television.  It kept me up at night thinking of ideas that I would bring to the Chinese and people I would collaborate with.  I worked out a production schedule and sent him off my ideas.  He said “I am so happy that we have a so good beginning.”  Today as I was looking for more information I came across this warning from a production company in Munich, Germany.

http://www.filmingholidays.com/2012/07/18/beware-b2b-scam-from-china/

Thanks to the internet and the experience of the production company in Munich I was saved from going any further down this scheming road.  I am now posting this as a cautionary tale to warn fellow producers and production companies.  The scam which first swept through Germany and Italy and other European countries has now reached American shores.  I guess if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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I Support Kony2012

Joseph Kony is infamous for his atrocities and crimes against humanity in Uganda and neighboring countries and now the group Invisible Children is trying to make him famous.  Kony is one of the most sought after war criminals and the hope is by bringing attention to him the whole world will engage and finally hunt him down and let justice be served.  His Kony’s Lords Resistance Army brutalized the people of Northern Uganda for 25 years, abducting children and turning them into child soldiers and sex slaves.  An entire region and generation were brutalized and broken.  Now Kony has fled from Uganda and has escaped into the Congo.  He continues his senseless killing and the U.S. has even sent troops to help Uganda’s military track him down.  A couple of years ago we met some of the child soldiers who had escaped and were being prepared to return home at Worldvision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu, Uganda.  Their stories are painful but they are also hopeful. Here is the video we produced for HDNet World Report:

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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The Power of Words

As a writer I’m impressed by how powerful words can be.  As a producer I’m awed by the power of images to tell stories.  This little video about how words evoke compassion left me speechless and a bit teary eyed too.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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Blair’s First Filmmaking Job

My 12 year old son, Blair Ewalt, a budding filmmaker and 7th grade student at Denver School of the Arts, just produced his first professional film.  It is a two and a half minute promotional piece for an exhibit called “The 4000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks” at Denver’s Mizel Museum. The exhibit opens on February 2, 2011.  

It took Blair less than two weeks to produce the video.  He shot it in high definition and edited it on Final Cut. He did the videotaping over Christmas break so he didn’t miss any school.  What makes me particularly proud about this is that his father and I didn’t get him the job.  The marketing manager of the Mizel Museum, Sue Stoveall, remembered his audition film for DSA, a short called “A Christmas Gift,” and thought he had the right stuff.

He will have his first paycheck soon and the museum is sending a press release out to the Denver Post and other media singing the praises of the middle school kid who they hired.  Congratulations, Blair.  Someday I’m sure we will all be working for you.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

 

 


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2011: More Words to Live By

Deb Frazier from my book club sent me this new year’s inspiration about happiness. How apropos that it comes from a book, Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.” I really have enjoyed receiving these life affirming gifts from friends today.

I keep remembering one of my Guru’s teachings about happiness. She says that people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t you will eat away your innate contentment. It’s easy enough to pray when you’re in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments.

As I focus on diligent joy, I also keep remembering a simple idea my friend Darcey told me once — that all the sorrow and trouble of this world is caused by unhappy people. Not only in the big global Hitler-‘n’-Stalin picture, but also on the smallest personal level. Even in my own life, I can see exactly where my episodes of unhappiness have brought suffering or distress or (at the very least) inconvenience to those around me. The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world. Clearing out all your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Hard Times in Hollywood

TV producer turned psychologist, Susan Winston, writes in the New York Times about the collateral damage from downsizing in the television and film businesses.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/12/jobs/12pre.html?_r=1&src=twrhp

For more information about Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Pearl Harbor Day

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, commemorating the Japanese attack on Hawaii on December 7, 1941 which brought America into World War II. President Roosevelt called it a “date that will live in infamy.” It was the backstory for kids who grew up in the islands.  We learned about the horror in history books and movies like “Tora, Tora, Tora.”  To this day I still point out Kipapa Gulch near the North Shore and tell my boys it’s where the Kamikaze pilots crossed onto Oahu. We used to take all our visitors to the Arizona Memorial when we drove them around the island. It was our 9/11 and it happened 69 years ago today. Not many men and women who survived that day are still alive but we should add it to the list of things to never forget.

http://pacificislandparks.com/2010/12/07/hawaii-remembers-pearl-harbor/

http://www.erikanderson.net/pearlharbor/facts.html

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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The Grapes of Wrath: The Next Generation

Even with 500 TV channels at our fingertips my 12 year old son, Blair, and I could not come up with a movie to watch.  He manned the remote flipping from title to title while I played God saying “next” and “pass” until we had gone from A to Z.  He grew impatient and started lobbying for “Family Guy” instead.  I was undeterred.  We would come up with a movie to share.  We went backwards from Z towards A and finally stopped on John Ford’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic “The Grapes of Wrath.”  Not his first choice for sure but he surrendered to a 70 year old film based on mom’s favorite book of all time.  We settled on his bed in a cuddle and since we started late it took us two evenings to get through it.

I’m sure I watched this epic when I was in middle school or high school yet decades later I’m still in awe of this movie.  It is so honest, so realistic.  It was startling in its simplicity by today’s standards yet that made it even more powerful.  I was struck by the starkness of the landscapes, the grimness of the Depression and the Dust Bowl, the contrasts in black and white and the melodrama of the acting.  The performances by Henry Fonda as a young Tom Joad and especially Oscar award winning Jane Darwell as the beleagured mother trying to keep her family together stay with you long after the final credits.  Compared to 3D films, Pixar and Disney animation and the special effects we have today it was so unsophisticated.

The themes of this great and gritty masterpiece resonate 70 years later.  Oppression of migrants, the cry for economic and social justice, the difficulty of achieving the American dream and the endurance of the spirit over inhumanity and adversity feel every bit as relevant in 2010 as they did in 1940.  But these are just my impressions.  When I asked my son Blair what he thought of the movie he said the big surprise for him was that the protagonist did not win.  He said in movies these days the protagonist always triumphs and that sometimes it spoils things because he knows how the film will end. But at the end of the movie Tom Joad and his family were still suffering. I told him that good guys don’t always win and sometimes in the real world people are bloodied and nobody wins.  There are not always happy endings. For him, “The Grapes of Wrath” was unexpected and for me, well, they just don’t make movies like that anymore.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Animal Suicide: The Video

Can animals commit suicide?  Richard O’Barry, who starred in the Oscar award winning documentary “The Cove,” says they can and a dolphin named Cathy that he captured and trained for the TV show “Flipper” did just that.  Outrageous? Jennifer London traveled with him to Key West, Florida to look into this controversial subject for HDNet’s World Report. She also spoke to animal behaviorists, Dr. Ann Weaver in St. Petersburg, Florida and Dr. Lori Marino at Atlanta’s Emory University.

Animal Suicide from Vicky Collins on Vimeo.

Produced by Vicky Collins

Story: Animal Suicide

Network: HDNet – World Report

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.