KIRKWOOD, Mo. - Filmmaker Sarah Paulsen wanted to make sense of a senseless tragedy six years ago. The film "Elegy to Connie" began as a tribute to the late Connie Karr, a family friend, mayoral candidate, and one of the shooting victims on February 7, 2008.
On that night, Cookie Thornton went on a shooting rampage at a public meeting at the Kirkwood City Hall. Thornton killed five people before being shot and killed by police.
Paulsen grew up in Kirkwood and her mother knew both Cookie Thornton and Connie Karr, and is still amazed at a conversation that took place before the 2008 shooting at Kirkwood City Hall.
"Before the shooting my mom said to me, 'Sarah, there's this man, Cookie Thornton, and I think you should interview him and do a movie about what's going on with him.'"
Paulsen never conducted that interview, and initially, Thornton was not going to be part of Paulsen's movie. She realized she couldn't tell Karr's story without telling Thornton's story.
"They were both trying to have voice in a community and I think they went about it in very different ways," said Paulsen.
The one hour stop-motion animation documentary addresses the complex issues surrounding Thornton's violent outburst.
"The fact that shootings still keep happening," said Paulsen, "I thought if I could understand a little about this one it would lend something about other ones."
"Elegy to Connie" is generating buzz, and Paulsen is still getting used to the new normal: interview requests. A St. Louis Public Radio panel at KWMU featured Paulsen alongside Kirkwood city leaders to discuss the city's future and how the film affected Paulsen personally.
"It gave me empathy for Cookie and everything he had been going through, and it gave me empathy for the council and how awkward it is as a white person to talk about issues of race," said Paulsen.
Kirkwood Deputy Mayor Paul Ward was a childhood friend of Cookie Thornton. In the wake of the mass shooting, Ward is trying to create positive change in Kirkwood while trying to understand why Thornton shot and killed five people.
"There were some underlying things that we need to look at as a community and find out what got him where he was," said Ward, "and how can we make sure we help people in the future."
Ward believes Paulsen's film can create much needed dialogue in Kirkwood.
"There are some people who are just deeply hurt on both sides of what happened with the incident and that will continue to change," said Ward. "That's what dialogue brings because if you're at home letting it fester, no good will come of that. You gotta get out, you gotta talk, you gotta make new friends. That's what will change it."
Paulsen realizes she tackled a tough subject, covering Karr's work as a council member, Thornton's psychological demons, and the community grief that resulted from the mass shooting.
"Really wanting to deal with the material with respect and humanity," said Paulsen. "Really portraying the dignity of everyone involved from Connie to Cookie and the other council members."
"Elegy to Connie" will be shown at the Tivoli Theater Sunday, July 13 at 2:30 p.m. at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase. For more information, http://elegytoconnie.weebly.com/