It feels like any other Wednesday. You go through the usual morning routine and arrive at the office in time for what seems like a typical, boring meeting. Then the building rips apart in an explosion.
Oklahoma City opens with a recording from the Water Resources Board meeting at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995 at 9:02 a.m., the moment that terrorist Timothy McVeigh’s bomb explodes, killing 168 people in the nine-story building, including 19 children attending daycare.
The film centers on this moment. With no narrator, we hear directly from the survivors, witnesses, emergency responders and investigators, along with recordings of McVeigh himself.
At one point, police officer Jennifer Rodgers questions “Why Oklahoma City? It’s a quiet place. Nothing happens here; it’s not supposed to happen here.” The film tries to find an answer, tracing McVeigh’s attack back to his history as a bullied kid and Gulf War veteran to his connections with extremist and white separatist groups to federal gun legislation to the events that shaped his ideology, specifically deadly stand-offs between federal agents and the Weaver family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho and the Branch Davidian religious group in Waco, Texas. McVeigh’s attack on the Murrah Building came exactly two years after Branch Davidians set their compound on fire as feds tried to force them out with tear gas. The film gives us a haunting image of McVeigh selling anti-government bumper stickers near the Waco raid and goes on to paint a picture of how he and his accomplice planned the attack, the criminal investigation, his trial and his execution.
The film doesn’t completely focus on McVeigh though. Stories that stick with you include a surgeon amputating a girl’s leg to free her from the building’s wreckage and a wife and husband rushing separately to two nearby hospitals to be with their children who survived the bombing.
Oklahoma City takes an emotional toll on its viewers and you may be forced to look away from the bloodshed on screen.
The film reminds us that America is home to more than 500 militant groups with similar ideologies to McVeigh’s. And that’s more chilling than any horror film you’ll see at this year’s festival.
The film is written and directed by Barak Goodman, Oklahoma City is part of Sundance’s doc premieres program.
Images courtesy of Sundance Institute
Sunday, Jan. 22, 5:30 p.m., Prospector Square Theatre, Park City
Tuesday, Jan. 24, 9 p.m., Tower Theatre, SLC
Saturday, Jan. 28, 9:15 p.m., Holiday Village Cinema 2, Park City