I saw my second SIFF movie today, a documentary called the Gits about a Seattle punk rock band from the early 90s. I liked the Gits when they were around, though they never came to New York so I never got to see them. Musically, they weren’t groundbreaking or anything, but they had a secret weapon in singer Mia Zapata. She had a great voice and a magnetism that made her a born frontwoman.
The film documents the band from their beginnings at Antioch college to their halcyon Seattle days in the early 90s to their sad end in 1993. This is not a typical band story of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The Gits were at their peak when it all came to an end. The cause: the rape and murder of Mia Zapata in 1993. This was big news in the punk rock scene at the time and I certainly heard about it in NYC. Band members overdosing on heroin was not that surprising, but rape and murder were something else entirely.
The story of the band is told through interviews with surviving members, friends, and family. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a lot of good video footage of the Gits in existence, so most of what’s shown is from two shows (one in Seattle that was actually shot for the film Hype! and one in LA). Nonetheless, the filmmakers carry it off with deft editing, the use of stills, and the occasional cartoon segue.
Although the film is about the band as a whole, it can’t help but focus on Mia, since her death was so tragic and had repercussions throughout the Seattle scene. And for over a decade her murder was unsolved and that just made it worse. None of her friends or bandmates knew why she had been killed or who might have done it. Her loss was bad enough, but the senselessness of it made it that much worse.
Interestingly, the film was well under way when Mia’s cold case was unexpectedly revived. The police had recovered a DNA sample from saliva found on her corpse but there were no matches at the time. Eleven years later her murderer was arrested in Florida and his DNA profile entered the system. He was brought back to Seattle, tried, and sentenced to 36 years for Mia’s rape and murder. This gave her friends and family (and the film for that matter) a sense of closure, which was something at least. Sadly, the crimes did turn out to be entirely random. This guy didn’t know her at all. She was just a convenient target who walked down the wrong Seattle street on the wrong night. A bright young artist’s life cut short for no reason at all. It’s a terribly sad story and the film tells it well.
Afterwards there was a Q + A with the filmmakers and part way through it the ex-drummer for the Gits came up as well (these days he’s a psycho-therapist; coincidence?). This was the world premier of the film. It was quite appropriate that this take place not only in Seattle, but at a theater that’s mere blocks from the Comet Tavern, a central hang out for the band and the last place her friends saw Mia alive.
My SIFF schedule will now shift to things other than punk rock documentaries.