Kyle Dinkheller’s story is one that I discovered completely by accident. In December of 2012, I was reading an article on gun control and found, in the comments section, a link titled: “This is What a Semi-Automatic Rifle Can Do.” The link led to a grainy YouTube video of footage from a traffic stop in 1998. A young police officer pulled over an older man, they got into an argument, it turned violent, and - without much warning - the older man shot the younger one to death. All in the space of a few minutes. This was the police car dashcam footage of Kyle’s murder. It was the most disturbing thing I had ever seen. I was in shock - the cruelty and the speed of the violence were completely beyond anything my life had trained me to expect from such a mundane scenario. The experience of watching that footage stuck with me. For a long time. It felt important, and raw. When it came time to direct my thesis film at UCLA, I knew instinctively that this would be the story I should tackle. It had gotten too deep under my skin to do anything else - to this day, I still cry when I think of the way Kyle sounded as he was dying - ragged, human; not a "cop," but a husband and father who happened to be in uniform. Kyle's story showed me a side of law enforcement that I had never seen before – a vulnerable and profoundly human side – and I’ve spent the better part of the last year doing my best to bring that story to the widest audience possible.
In researching the film, my team and I spent a lot of time interviewing local LAPD law enforcement officers. We spoke with
men and women of many different ranks – patrolmen up to chiefs of police. They all had a take on Kyle’s story. Everyone saw something unique in it – what he was feeling and thinking, what he did right or wrong, what he could have done different. They all had one thought in common though: the belief that sharing these stories was essential. No one wants to critique a tragedy like Kyle’s, second guessing choices that he made in the blink of an eye, under circumstances more difficult than many of us – God willing – will ever see in our lives. But it has to be done. If sharing an officer’s story can help change the story of just one person in the future – help them make better choices, help them avoid tragedy for themselves and for the public – then that’s all the justification you need. One patrolman we spoke to said it well – “when you put on the uniform, every day, you know that it might just be your last. And you just hope, that if that is the case, the other guys can learn from what happened to you, and do their job that much better in the future.”
The choice to tell this story from first person point of view felt like a natural one. There are a lot of POV stories out there right now, and with technical advancements like Google Glass and the Oculus Rift, I imagine there will only be more as time goes on. But the majority of those stories are adolescent fantasies - the hero takes a gun into his hand, decimates his opposition, and comes out victorious. The real world isn't like that. Kyle's story wasn't like that, and that - I think - is also a part of its power.
Kyle’s story gave me insight into a side of law enforcement that the public rarely gets to experience - a messy, uncertain, dangerous side - and it felt right to carry that insight to its furthest possible conclusion: literally place the audience in Kyle's shoes. Our focus was on making an emotionally honest film, one that presented the facts of the experience without inflection or bias. The majority of the film's dialogue is taken from transcripts of the dashcam footage, and the small sections that were invented were based on biographical research. The film is - as near as we could make it - accurate.
The technical development required to achieve this film – a single 7 minute shot, all anchored in the eyes of our lead actor – was daunting. My team and I conducted six months of research leading up to the film, investigating different camera rigs, doing multiple full test shoots, and crewing up with a team of industry professional that are the best in the business. But all that work – all the preparation and technical problem solving – was in service to a simple thing: telling Kyle’s story as honestly and directly as possible. When I first encountered this story over a year ago, I felt a deep and permanent shift in my view of the thin blue line, and the men and women who walk it every day. My respect and admiration grew for them immensely. My hope is that in making this film, and presenting it to the public, I’ve done a little to help that respect and admiration spread and grow. Sharing these stories is important; thank you for taking the time to look at Kyle’s.
“Our focus was on making an emotionally honest film, one that presented the facts of the experience without inflection or bias.”
- Benjamin Arfmann
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