Director of documentary investigating police brutality will host screening of film at library in Steamboat |

Director of documentary investigating police brutality will host screening of film at library in Steamboat

A rally from the documentary “Marvin Booker Was Murdered.” (Photo courtesy of Jeff Englehart)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When street preacher Marvin Booker died at the hands of five jail guards in Denver’s Downtown Detention Center in 2010, Wade Gardner, founder and programming director of the DocuWest Film and Music Festival, read about the event in a Denver Post article and paid attention.

“Marvin’s death was a culmination of a series of law enforcement abuses in the city,” Gardner said. “I knew it was a story I had to follow and that I had to keep up with what was transpiring.”

None of the deputies involved in Booker’s death were indicted or disciplined.

If you go

What: “Marvin Booker Was Murdered” screening
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21
Where: Bud Werner Memorial Library, 1289 Lincoln Ave.

Gardner attended the 2014 trial of Booker’s estate versus the city of Denver, and once it had concluded, Gardner found the Booker family releasing balloons printed with Marvin’s name.

“I’m a filmmaker, and I’d like to do a story on this,” he told them. “Can I reach out to you about this idea?”

Their answer was “yes.”

“I made a commitment to the Booker family that I would work tirelessly to bring some resolution to the fact that their loved one had been killed,” Gardner said.

And he has. The product of his work, which he wrote, directed, edited and produced, is called “Marvin Booker Was Murdered.” It was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The documentary will screen at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at Bud Werner Memorial Library in Steamboat Springs. Gardner will be in attendance and will be part of a discussion following the film.

When he died, Marvin Booker was 56. He’d been living in Denver and was a devotee of Martin Luther King, with a talent for memorizing and imitating King’s speeches. Booker had mental health challenges, and he chose to be homeless.

“His family supported him in that,” Gardner said. “He always had a place to go.”

The film is a product of more than 50 interviews and hundreds of hours of tape whittled down to the pieces most key to understanding the story and its context. In addition to Booker’s closest family and friends, Gardner interviews Denver city administrators including former Denver Senior Chief Deputy District Attorney Lamar Sims, Denver’s former Public Safety Director Stephanie O’Malley and attorney Thomas Rice, lead prosecutor representing Denver in Booker’s case.

Gardner said the making of the film and some of its outcomes have sometimes felt like old wounds reopened to the Booker family. Gardner first screened the film to the Booker family in their hometown of Memphis on Feb. 4, 2018 — the birthday of both Marvin and his mother, MaDear.

The film also has screened by the Denver Mayor’s Office and District Attorney’s Office, sparking conversations and actions related to Marvin’s case and others similar to it.

“The film is a playbook of what it takes for a family — brown, white, black, any family of any nationality — to band together and fight the system,” Gardner said.

In the years Gardner spent working on this film, many more cases of police killing unarmed black men have come into national conversation.

“The mainstream media has yet to fully pick up this (Marvin’s) story, because the narrative has to fit the place,” Gardner said. “Marvin’s death didn’t catch on in the press because that’s not the narrative they want to write for Colorado.

“I’m proud that in the film,” Gardner continued. “We followed the evidence where it led, and then people can think their way through the film and come to their own conclusion.”

To reach Julia Ben-Asher, call 970-871-4229 or email or follow her on Twitter @JuliaBenAsher.

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