As Gun Violence Soars, this Astonishing Film Clears Space for Dialogue and Change
The coronavirus pandemic helped make 2020 the deadliest year in U.S. history, but it’s now clear that an unprecedented spike in gun murders also played a decisive role.
As Devlin Barrett recently noted in the Washington Post, “2020 has been a killer year in every way, including murder. The United States has experienced the largest single one-year increase in homicides since the country started keeping such records in the 20th century, according to crime data and criminologists.”¹
As experts continue to weigh a range of new variables to make sense of this sudden surge in gun violence, they’ll also have to contend with two other longer-range factors: the easy availability of firearms in this country, and the deep-seated cultural mythologies that have made guns central to American identity.
These are two key threads of the story of guns in America that filmmaker Richard Chisolm explores in his fascinating new documentary Gun Show: Rethinking Weapons in the Name of Art.
In the film, Chisolm profiles the work of artist David Hess, a sculptor who assembles mock assault rifles out of everyday found objects, turns them into a traveling public art installation, and wends his way through urban centers and rural towns to get people thinking and talking about the cultural power and meaning of guns in America. The film, like the artist and the art it chronicles, derives much of its power from its openness to critical thinking, its refusal to advocate a pre-determined ideological position, and its commitment to bridging differences and encouraging dialogue across personal, political, and cultural divides. These are just some of the many reasons that educators have been praising the film as an indispensable classroom resource. (See below.)
Gun Show is now available on DVD, via 7-day streaming rental through MEF, or through your university or public library via the Kanopy streaming platform. To see if your university subscribes to Kanopy, click here. For other streaming options click here.
PRAISE FOR GUN SHOW
“A testament to the power of art to engender safe, rich, thoughtful conversations.”
— Elizabeth Gaufberg MD MPH | Associate Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry,
Harvard Medical School
“Guns are tools, totems of pride and patriotism, cherished family heirlooms, sources of terror, symbols of power and resistance, and everything in between. Gun Show explores the fascinating ways in which these objects exemplify our everyday experience of the material world, while remaining unique in their ability to inspire awe, fear, or devotion. In so doing, it also reveals how a shared artistic experience opens up conversations that transcend the typical divides marking the debates over gun violence and gun rights in the US.”
— Jonathan Obert | Assistant Professor of Political Science at Amherst College and author of The Six-Shooter State: Public and Private Violence in American Politics
“Gun Show does a remarkable job showing how people from diverse perspectives view guns in radically different ways. For some, Hess’s ‘weapons’ are terrifying. For others, they are thrilling or amusing. This documentary illuminates the chasm we must cross to make headway in the American gun debate.”
— Firmin DeBrabander | Author of Do Guns Make Us Free? and Professor of Philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art
“After every new and senseless mass shooting, there is a flickering hope that common sense legislation will prevail, and then it does not. Enter Gun Show, a fresh-faced film that wields the achingly inventive art of David Hess, who has literally created ‘weapons of mass discussion!’ Richard Chisolm’s documentary trumpets a great human aspiration – the end of us-versus-them thinking – revealing a world where we see we are all in it together.”
— Rebecca Hoffberger | Founder/Director, American Visionary Art Museum
“A provocative, and productively uncomfortable, look at art’s capacity to transform, and to breach the barriers that prevent us from connecting across our differences. Amidst our increasingly heated gun debates, art provides a means of recapturing a sense of shared humanity and common vulnerability.”
— Caroline Light | Author of Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense and Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies Program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Harvard University
“9 out of 10! Whether it’s rural farmers seeing the weapons as optimistic homages to freedom, community programs for at-risk youth viewing them as a fetishistic love letter to romanticized violence, or an ethical debate with no right answer (or end), Gun Show succeeds in almost every way.”
— Film Threat
“David Hess’s assault rifle facsimile sculptures challenge both the American fetishization of guns and museums’ prohibition against handling works of art. Demonstrates the power of public art to spark dialogue in diverse audiences and across entrenched political and social divisions.”
— Annie Dell’Aria | Assistant Professor of Art History at Miami University
“Gun Show is a powerful blend of art and politics with surprising cultural insights.”
— Marshall Curry | Academy Award-winning filmmaker
“Funny. Cool. Scary. Anti-gun. Pro-gun. All different responses to the same works of art: ‘Guns’ built from objects found around the home of sculptor David Hess. … These meanings are grounded in real, experiential differences with guns, and recognizing this is key to understanding — and possibly overcoming — the polarization of attitudes around guns in our society. The length and open-endedness of Gun Show makes it an ideal resource for those who want to engage in a difficult and polarizing issue.”
— David Yamane | Professor of Sociology at Wake Forest University
“The fantasy ‘rifles’ sculptor David Hess creates invite us to reconsider our own views on firearms, whatever they may be … [and] encourage us to talk with instead of at each other about safer ways to live with our 300 million guns.”
— Craig R. Whitney | Author, Living with Guns: A Liberal’s Case for the Second Amendment
“U.S. gun culture — like any culture — includes notions of beauty, pragmatics, profit and play, and at its core the psychology of human desire. Gun Show puts them all on display and demonstrates that we still don’t know how to account for that culture. Watching it and talking about it should help us structure our understanding.”
— Peter Isackson | Writer at Fair Observer
“Richard Chisolm and David Hess have found an engaging and enlightening way to plumb the mystery of America’s fascination with violent weapons.”
— Dan Baum | Author, Gun Guys: A Road Trip