‘Emanuel: The Untold Story of the Victims and Survivors of the Charleston Church Shooting’
By Cari Hachmann
A new documentary, Emanuel: The Untold Story of the Victims and Survivors of the Charleston Church Shooting, chronicles the 2015 shooting in Charleston, S.C., where nine African Americans were murdered by a 21-year-old white supremacist during their Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church. Emanuel’s director is Brian Ivie (The Drop Box), a graduate of San Clemente High School and The USC School of Cinematic Arts, with executive producers including NBA star Steph Curry (Unanimous Media) and Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis (JuVee Productions).
The film has been described as a poignant story of justice and faith, love and hate, examining the healing power of forgiveness. It is only showing in theaters for two days, on June 17 and June 19, marking the four-year anniversary of the tragedy. All producers’ proceeds will go to the victims’ families and the survivors, according to the film’s website. To watch the trailer, visit emanuelmovie.com.
Here’s a San Clemente Times Q&A with Ivie:
SCT: Why did you want to tell this story?
Brian Ivie: In short, because of how the families responded to the shooting. But it actually wasn’t only about the forgiveness. It was Felicia Sanders (one of the shooting’s three survivors) saying to the killer, “We enjoyed you. And we welcomed you in our Bible study with open arms.” This is the kind of love that I’m always looking for in stories. The kind that bears the full weight of a wrong and still wishes good upon the wrongdoer. The kind that God has for the world. The kind that changed me.
SCT: Where and what were you doing when the shooting happened?
BI: I was actually on my honeymoon. My wife was crying at her computer when I walked into the hotel room. She was watching the video of the families forgiving the murderer in court. That’s where it starts.
SCT: What were your first steps in making the documentary?
BI: Great question. Before meeting with the families, I actually stayed away from the story for about a year. I honestly wasn’t sure whether I or anyone should even make a movie about what happened, especially given how salacious these kind of documentaries typically are. But when the one-year memorial came around, I decided to bring a small crew out to Charleston to film the services. It was going to be a gift to the church, but ended up becoming something much bigger. There were a lot of divine connections, honestly, and we ended up meeting the families at Sticky Fingers BBQ in Charleston to talk about making a documentary (not a Hollywood movie). The difference being that they could tell their own story. My protocol is always to meet with people first, without any cameras. It helps remind me and the subject that this isn’t about my career, but more about us telling a story together. In this case, I think it really comes across on screen.
SCT: How did you like growing up in San Clemente?
BI: I think it was good and bad. When you grow up with so much wealth and privilege, it’s easy to let the world revolve around you, so I think leaving the bubble has been good for me. At the same time, San Clemente was where I fell in love with movies. Every summer, I would make movies with my friends. Usually, Lord of The Rings, because we didn’t like girls.
SCT: How were you able to approach the families of the nine victims?
BI: Carefully. As I said before, it was more about asking their permission to tell the story than it was about telling them how we were going to do it. We met them on their terms in their city and shared our hearts with them first. No cameras. My producing partner, Dimas, who is an African American, was also in Charleston in the aftermath of the shooting, so his presence made all the difference in the world.
SCT: What did you learn about the shooter, Dylann Roof?
BI: We learned a lot. We learned that he scouted out the church and that he had a list of other churches he was going to attack before he was caught. That said, I would say part of his motivation still remains a mystery. He had no history of racial violence, nor any traumatic experiences that we know of, that could be linked to the evil he displayed in that church. But we also learned that in spite of what he did, he is loved by the people that forgave him. That’s the most profound thing to me.
SCT: How did you meet your producers?
BI: Some I already knew, others (including Stephen and Viola) came on board after the film was completed to make sure the world would see the film. It’s been really amazing to see how each person has a heart not only to see social change in our country, but spiritual change as well.
SCT: What message does your film seek to get across?
BI: That God is real. And that He is with us in our suffering.
SCT: Can you talk about your faith and how it connects to the film?
BI: I owe my whole life to God. He brought me out of addictions and dark places that are still hard to talk about. So I think I made the entire film from a place of knowing I need forgiveness in my own life, which is hopefully why it’s so relatable. Every story I tell will be about Him.
SCT: How has making this documentary impacted your life?
BI: I think I was surprised by how ignorant I was about the pain that African Americans still feel in this country. We can’t just forgive and forget that. There’s a reason why no one is afraid of a white kid in a hoodie. And why black kids get shot just because they’re black. But I was also surprised by how all of the (victims’) families embraced me. It still makes me emotional.