Video by Marissa High
Article by Darcie Moran
Ingham County Chronicle staff writers
A normal school day at an elementary school typically consists of busy parents dropping off children to be reunited with friends and teachers.
No one expects danger.
“It’s an epic tragedy,” said Matt Martyn, a partner at the Lansing film production company Ahptic Film and Digital.
For many Ingham County residents, Martyn’s documentary at the Capital City Film Festival was the first time they had heard of the Bath school attack.
Bath School Disaster was one of several popular films at the recent festival in Lansing.
On the weekend of April 15, film fanatics came to see 70 films from all over the world.
“This is (filmmakers’) chance to show their films to an audience that would have no other way to see them,” film festival program director Dan Hartley said.
Hartley said the festival also was a chance for enthusiasts to see productions from places such as Europe and Australia, as well as locally made films.
Hartley mentioned Bath School Disaster as one of the primary local films.
“It’s local in the most literal sense,” Hartley said, of the locally filmed and produced documentary.
Martyn said it was one the nation’s worst tragedies.
More than 100 curious individuals attended the showing.
Documenting the attack on Bath
Although school shootings, terrorist bombings and suicide bombers have become everyday phrases, there was a time when the thought of someone trying to hurt children never crossed parents’ minds.
This all changed in 1927 when the first and worst attack on a school occurred just outside Ingham County, said Martyn.
“(We) told the story of a man that tried to destroy a town, but the community of Bath prevailed,” Martyn said of his documentary, eight years in the making.
About 45 people, including about 38 children, died in the attack. About 58 were injured.
This is the largest attack on a school in U.S. history. The death toll is nearly equivalent to those of Columbine and Virginia Tech combined.
“It’s such a messed-up story,” Hartley said. “You can’t even prepare yourself for how messed up it is. It was like an order of magnitude I wasn’t even expecting.”
According to the documentary, Andrew Kehoe, a member of the community, loaded tons of dynamite into Bath’s new school over an extended time. A school board member, Kehoe had clashed with other members of the board and the community.
After the attack, community members determined that Kehoe had loaded the school, his farmhouse and his car with dynamite, the film stated. After the rigged dynamite exploded at the school and his farm, Kehoe headed toward the school.
Not all the dynamite at the school initially exploded, according to the documentary. After arriving at the school, Kehoe detonated his car, killing himself and many rescue workers.
Martyn said Kehoe’s tactics were frighteningly similar to those of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida.
Had all the dynamite exploded, it is likely Bath would not exist today, said experts in the documentary.
The film includes coverage of the events surrounding the tragedy, interviews with survivors, some of whom knew Kehoe and experts.
“It was time,” Martyn said of his choice to show his production. “The town is still recovering,” Martyn said. “It holds so many painful memories.”
He said about half of his interviewees have died since he first spoke with them, but he was able to fulfill their wish of seeing the film before they passed away.
“Fortunately, (Bath residents) have appreciated it,” he said. “They feel the documentary does the story justice.
Hartley compared the production of the film to those seen on The History Channel.
Lansing resident Colleen Kuntz, who grew up in Bath, said she attended the film festival solely to see the documentary.
“I’m glad that somebody has done this to remind people,” said Kuntz, who knew several people with family members in the explosion.
MSU graduate student Katie Wittenauer, who saw the Bath School Disaster screening and several others, said she was surprised that such a tragedy occurred so close to home.
“I hope it’s able to be distributed,” Wittenauer said. “It’s a bit of history that doesn’t get a lot of attention.”
Martyn said he hopes to distribute the documentary nationally on television and the Internet.
“It was extremely challenging on many levels, but we had the resources,” Martyn said.
“We knew in honor of the survivors that had spoken up and told their stories, and also in memory of the victims, the story had to be told.”
The Capital City Film Festival lets Hartley indulge his love of film.
“I love showing stuff,” Hartley said with a laugh, adding he frequently likes to show friends new movies or CDs he finds.
Lansing’s second annual Capital Area Film Festival was much more popular than the first, according to Hartley. The 70 films were chosen from about 230 submissions.
“We have more than twice as many and the quality of the submissions was even better than last year,” Hartley said.
According to Hartley, attendance as the festival was encouraging, with nearly 300 people at opening night.
Hartley said the film festival is likely to grow as more people know about it and become interested.
“I’m really impressed with such a small scene,” East Lansing resident Christina Ragan said. “The caliber of the films (is) very high.”
Hartley said the festival was somewhat modeled after South by Southwest, a popular festival in Texas. The event included music, “tech-talks” and more.
He said because filmmaking is becoming more accessible and cheaper, more films are being made — making the festival more relevant to local film enthusiasts.
“It’s allowing people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to make their vision at a relatively low budget,” Hartley said.
Lansing resident Heather Wise said she attended to support friend and filmmaker Anthony Griffin who showed “Girl with the Blue Eyes.”
“Some of the films were absolutely amazing,” she said. “I loved the cinematography.”
Local business owner Laura Kennell, who attended several films, said an event like this could benefit to the area, especially local businesses.
“I liked the controversial subject matter,” Kennell said.
“There was one where the acting probably wasn’t up to par.”
Some people, who would not speak on the record, objected to some films.
“It’s really cool to see that we’re reaching — a really diverse audience –- which is always the intention,” Hartley said.
Hartley said the event adds to the growing film scene in Lansing, something Hartley can appreciate, since he normally has to drive hours to see similar films.
“It’s great to have a homegrown event like that here,” said Martyn. “It’s the beginning of something great.”
“There is an audience of film lovers in Lansing,” Martyn said. “We want to give them something, because we can.”
Staff writer Marissa High contributed to this article.