Bowling for Columbine (2002) is the most well-known documentary film to address school violence. Written and directed by filmmaker and author Michael Moore, whose previous work included Roger & Me and The Big One, Bowling for Columbine offers a critique of some of the more commonly held explanations for school violence. In addition to addressing school violence in particular, Moore illustrates that the United States is a culture in which violence is endemic, and shows that easy access to guns makes lethal violence far more common in this country than in other industrialized nations. Approximately 11,000 people die each year in the United States from gun violence–far more than in neighboring Canada, the United Kingdom, or Japan. Moore includes “A Brief History of the United States” and a disturbing montage of actual footage that show how the United States has historically exploited people of color and used violence to maintain its position as a world power.
Bowling for Columbine was the first documentary accepted into the Cannes Film Festival in 46 years, and the Cannes jury unanimously awarded it the 55th Anniversary Prize. Moore won the Academy Award for best documentary in 2003. The film’s title comes from a mistaken belief that the Columbine shooters–Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold–attended a school bowling class the morning of the 1999 massacre.
The film features Moore’s discussion with an eclectic group of people who comment on violence, both inside and out of schools. Among others, he talks with controversial musician Marilyn Manson, the creators of South Park, James Nichols (brother of Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols), and the National Rifle Association’s then president Charlton Heston. Manson’s music, some of which discusses suicide and seems to condone violence, was considered to be a major influence on the Columbine shooters. The musician offers a unique perspective, in the end asserting that the best way to reduce youth violence is to listen to kids.
Moore also critiques the punitive trend in schools. In one scene he shows an absurd advertisement for a metal detector company that shows a boy unloading multiple high-powered weapons from his pants pockets. Moore uses this imagery to show how some of the responses to school violence, or the fear of it, are simply making others wealthy.
Critics contend that Moore’s film is less documentary and more political argument. They note several errors in the film and cite examples of Moore making arguments that are, at best, a stretch. In the beginning of the film, Moore shows a bank in North Carolina that was offering a free gun in exchange for opening an account. Bank employees claim that Moore and his staff misled them and that, in actuality, the guns were shipped to recipients, not handed out on location. Moore also asserts that the violence at Columbine High School was somehow connected to the fact that Littleton, Colorado, is the home of Lockheed Martin, a major weapons manufacturer, which many assert is a weak linkage.
- Bowling for Columbine: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0310793/, http://www.bowlingforcolumbine.com/
- Moore, M. (2002). Bowling for Columbine [motion picture]. Alliance Atlantis Communications.