Pretty much anyone who owns a cellphone these days can make a movie. If there’s a problem with that, it’s that many do.
June 2, 1976: The Assassination of a Reporter is not made with a cellphone. Yet the documentary short, released online today by Running Wild Films, looks very much like a student film, marked by the same excellent titling and editing laypeople use, in moviemaking programs like Corel or Pinnacle, to create family vacation videos.
This locally produced short recaps the murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles 41 years ago. Its 22 minutes are taken up with archival TV news footage and filmed speeches from witnesses, first responders, and colleagues given at a memorial held last year on the 40th anniversary of the attack.
“This is a story that has the breadth and depth of a Russian novel,” playwright Ben Tyler tells us at the top of the movie, in a clip from his speech of that night. Indeed, Bolles’ murder is packed with sorrow and intrigue: While reporting a series on land deals involving state politicians, local dog tracks, and the mob, Bolles was mortally wounded when a remote controlled bomb was detonated in his car. Both his legs and one arm were amputated in an attempt to save his life. Eleven days after the bombing, Bolles died.
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The crime, journalist Paul Dean says in the film, changed journalism here, elevating our national profile from cow town to big city. Bolles became a martyr, and our awareness of local mafia and the need for social justice ratcheted way up — all very good reasons why a short documentary about this crime should look less like something your little brother made with the editing app on his iPhone.
June 2, 1976 is less a documentary than a souvenir of last year’s memorial. Unlike a full-fledged documentary, it relies only on clips from that evening event interspersed with national television news clips, each still bearing a distracting time stamp. The recitation of the Bolles murder would have benefited from a handful of talking-head interviews or some onsite re-enactments. Sticking nice music behind a succession of speeches recounting Bolles’ murder isn’t enough.
Running Wild’s short film works as a promo for the company’s proposed scripted feature about Bolles. As a stand-alone documentary, it’s less than Don Bolles’ memory deserves.