Pete Schuermann has been directing movies in Colorado Springs for more than a decade, but his new documentary, Haze, is like nothing he has ever done before.
With Haze, the Monument resident and his colleagues shine a spotlight on the problems of alcohol misuse and hazing, which are responsible for more than 1,700 deaths annually on college campuses.
This Saturday, the public can catch the film's theatrical premiere at a one-night-only engagement at Kimball's Twin Peak Theater.
Haze centers around the story of Lynn Gordon (Gordie) Bailey Jr., a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The 18-year-old pledged Chi Psi one afternoon in 2004, and the next morning was found dead of alcohol poisoning on the floor of the fraternity house's library. He had lain dead for more than nine hours, covered by graffiti written in permanent marker, before anyone decided to call 911.
The 82-minute film weaves together the telling of Bailey's story, interviews with dozens of experts including psychologists, doctors, senators and college administrators and graphic live-action footage from college parties and police files.
"We didn't want to do a film that seemed like a lecture," says Schuermann, whose previous work includes projects for Disney and MGM Lionsgate. "We started with the philosophy that to get our message across, we needed to show what's going on, rather than just tell it. So, we started doing ride-alongs with police and ambulances, and we were shocked at what we saw."
The 42-year-old director and his crew filmed much of their footage in Boulder, but intended to use Bailey's story as a jumping-off point to portray binge drinking as a national problem. To find out what was happening on other campuses, they visited schools such as the University of Arizona, Harvard University and Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
"The moral of that story is that you can pretty much go anywhere and get this kind of wild footage," Schuermann says.
Haze began as a project of the Gordie Foundation, which was started by Bailey's mother and stepfather, Leslie and Michael Lanahan. After seeing a short film Schuermann had made about alcohol poisoning, the Lanahans approached him with their idea and became executive producers of the feature-length movie.
Schuermann recently screened the finished film for a small crowd at CU-Boulder, and aims to have it shown on college campuses across the country. He is also making a 30-minute version of the movie to be shown at high schools. He hopes the film will raise public awareness and create dialogue between young people and parents about the problem.
"People who have kids going to college and people who have been to college themselves, I think, will be particularly interested," says the director. "Not to mention that the extreme environment that young people find themselves in today is a matter of societal concern."
While making Haze, Schuermann learned just how many different opinions exist about the severity of the problem and what to do about it.
"We wanted to make it very well-rounded," he says. "The purpose isn't to make a definitive point about how we should solve this crisis. It's about bringing conversation home."