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  Recent Avila grad to introduce documentary at international film festival  
  Kansas City, MO    
September 16, 2010

It's not as though Mike B. Rollen is a macabre guy who instantly gravitates toward dark subjects such as murder and its roots. He simply envisioned an opportunity to help people through his work as an independent, experimental filmmaker.

And, yes, that work has taken Rollen down some dark paths. His recently-made documentary, Kansas City Murder Factory, explores the murder epidemic in the urban core of Kansas City, Mo., close to where Rollen calls home. He's planning a big premiere for his film at the Kansas International Film Festival Oct. 4 at the Glenwood Theatre in Overland Park, Kan.

Rollen, who graduated last spring from Avila University with a degree in communications with an emphasis in film and digital media, said he started work on Murder Factory 2 ½ years ago. He began studying murder rates in inner city Kansas City and began asking himself questions. Why is this happening? Why does it keep recycling itself? Where's the outrage, and why isn't anyone looking into this?

At the time, he also was working at radio station, Magic 107.3, producing a morning show. Through that show, he met activist Alonzo Washington, who was instrumental in solving the now-famous Precious Doe murder case. He also worked on public service programs. All the while, he'd hear stories of terrible crimes and injustices.

"That's how I got involved," he said. "I gained awareness of communities."

Kansas City Murder Factory is an unscripted experimental documentary told from the perspective of the victim. The film shows the many hurdles and struggles of victims' families as they cope and fight to get justice from a system that isn't always set up to be just or fair.

"I took a bottom-up approach to this film," Rollen said. "I interviewed families, police detectives, criminologists, people directly involved with working at this particular problem. A lot was shot from an observational form. I let subjects speak for themselves."

One grandfather Rollen interviewed had lost all five of his grandchildren to murder. One mother he spoke with had lost her son just a day earlier. Of all the people he requested to interview, only one woman refused to go on camera, he said.

Rollen credited his curriculum and associations at Avila with getting his film made. During a school trip to Hot Springs, Ark., Rollen got to meet documentarian Albert Maysles, recognized as the pioneer of "direct cinema," the distinctly American version of French "cinema verité." Rollen said Maysles "challenged us to do something that could make a positive contribution to humanity, use education to better humanity."

Rollen also said his professors at Avila gave him their full backing on the project, even allowing him to use university equipment during semester breaks. Several Avila students also helped work on the film.

"I don't think any other school would've let me do that," he said.

Rollen said he hoped to start building a good, grass-roots buzz for his documentary at the Kansas International Film Festival, perhaps even setting up his film as a model for other cities looking to explore inner-city murder and the causes and effects.

"I think people will find the film inspirational," Rollen said. "If I'd had more money, it would've been a different film. But, I'm not sure it would've been a better film."


About Avila University
Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.