Editors’ Choice: The Story of the Stuff

It smelled like popcorn on April 16, 2007. I had just begun projecting a movie at the Lyric Theatre in sleepy downtown Blacksburg, Virginia. It was an early morning show geared towards moms with small children and special needs patrons. I can no longer remember the title of the film. Just the smell of popcorn and getting a phone call. “There’s been a shooting on campus. Lock the doors.” Everyone knows what happened next. In the weeks that followed, all the world over learned of the shooting that left 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech dead, plus the shooter himself. The satellite trucks came and didn’t stop coming until the university’s enormous conference center parking lot was full. Our private grief became public. Like so many people in Blacksburg—a town of only 40,000—I knew a few of the victims. The footage you see above is my sole document of those days. I used my Super-8 camera to film the town’s movie theater marquee, the stone memorials for the victims. Something about the silent film made it more permanent and also less real. And it certainly looked different from the footage I saw on television: this wasn’t an outsider’s “pornography of the real.

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