At age 17, Sam Granillo said he wasn’t ready to see a counselor.
Following the Columbine shootings, a flood of offers from local therapists inundated many students who, like Granillo, were years from understanding the full effects the event would have on their adult lives.
Today, at 29, Granillo rarely sleeps without intense nightmares — a delayed effect of the three hours he spent crammed into a kitchen office with 17 others at the high school, at times bracing against the door to keep at least one of the shooters from entering.
“As a 17-year-old, you can only understand how things affect you so much,” he said. “You’re not going to know what to talk about with a stranger.”
But with the realization of the need for therapy has also come the reality that offers for pro bono help are now virtually nonexistent.
“Now that a lot of time has passed, I can understand more of the effects about how it influences my life on a day-to-day (basis),” he said. “I have chronic nightmares, chase dreams, dreams where I’m being trapped, screaming without being heard. … It’s very rare for me to have a good dream.”
Since graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a film degree in 2007, Granillo has worked on a number of freelance assignments, particularly as a production assistant for reality shows and network programs.
Now, the soft-spoken, spectacled man who brews small batches of beer and kombucha in his low-income Denver apartment wants to contribute his own voice to the ongoing cinema legacy, the most recent of which included last year’s film “13 Families.”
But Granillo doesn’t want to rehash stories that have already been told. Instead, he wants to make the first student-produced account of the shootings’ aftermath, particularly regarding the mental health of the hundreds of survivors, many of whom now have families and are well into careers.
“I haven’t been to therapy since probably 2001, and they didn’t diagnose me with anything then. Everything got pretty eclipsed by 9/11. It felt like America had bigger issues to deal with, and I didn’t really feel like I could talk about my problems very much,” he said. “I’m the first Columbine survivor to actually make a film about it. … I have a deeper connection to everyone that I will be talking with.”
Because he doesn’t have the means to self-fund the film, he’s established an all-or-nothing drive to raise $200,000 through Kickstarter, a donation website for emerging projects, between Nov. 10 and Jan. 1. As of Nov. 28, Granillo had raised more than $9,000, though if a $75,000 benchmark is not reached, the project will not receive any of the pledged funding. However, Granillo said he will pursue other fund-raising options if the online drive is unsuccessful.
“In film terms that’s pennies, but it’s also more than I’ve ever worked with,” he said of the $75,000 mark, which he considers a bare minimum for proceeding with the film. Additional funds would be used to hire animators, he said. “My goal for just about everything is $200,000. … I want to take a lot of these stories and accounts of the dreams that I’ve had and turn them into animations.”
He doesn’t have a specific timeline in mind, though it will likely be well over a year before a film is ready. And though he wants to conduct as many interviews as possible, the documentary will probably follow the stories of three or four former students at length, he said.
Though Granillo has worked professionally in film and television production for several years, he’s had interest in theater dating back to high school. He had a small recurring part in “The Smoke in the Room,” a student play coincidentally starring Rachel Scott, which concluded just before April 20, 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed Scott and 12 others at the school.
“I was generally the comic-relief character in all the different plays. I had worked with Dylan Klebold. He did a lot of the lighting,” Granillo said, noting that the play was interesting in that it depicted college life as written by two high school students. “It was the first student-written play that Columbine had put on, and it didn’t do very well,” he said, adding that the production nonetheless provided a memorable experience in its own right. “I thought it was fantastic; it was a lot of fun. … It was a big part of my life right before the shootings.”
But for Granillo and countless others, the shootings eclipsed everything in their lives. It’s a subject whose significance he plans to use to talk about post-traumatic stress and mental health in the wake of disaster, a topic he says could just as well apply to soldiers returning home from war.
“Nothing in my life comes close to the magnitude of this event,” he said. “I’ve never had anything that affects everyone that I know.”
Though it changed his idea of normalcy, it prompted him to appreciate the important things in life, he said.
“It may be a cliché, but I feel like that’s true. I love my friends. I love my family,” he said. “You never know when your last day is going to be. You can’t live like that always … but it never hurts to think about it from time to time.”
Contact Emile Hallez firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.
To donate to the film …
To donate to Sam Granillo’s Kickstarter project to help fund his film on the aftermath of the Columbine shootings, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/samuelgranillo/columbine-wounded-minds.