‘Walkout’ after mass shooting at El Paso Walmart is topic of film to screen in Fort Worth
Thomas Marshall was about to head to work when he first learned about a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso.
Even though he was several hours away in San Bruno, California, he felt close to the tragedy. He headed toward one of the retailer’s corporate offices, where he worked in the e-commerce division.
He and many of his colleagues were fresh out of college and in their first full-time jobs, which they had hoped would serve as a launching pad for their careers. In spite of the potential risks, they still felt the responsibility to try to do something in the wake of the tragedy on Aug. 3, 2019 that targeted Latinos, killing 23 and wounding over two dozen others.
Their efforts are at the forefront of a new documentary titled “Walkout,” which will be screened at Downtown Cowtown at the ISIS theater in the Stockyards on Feb. 15.
The 24-year-old man accused of carrying out the attack pleaded guilty on Feb. 8 to federal hate crime and weapons charges.
‘Not going to be just a single day news event’
Rob Smat, the film’s director, grew up in Benbrook, but attended college at the University of Southern California, where he met Marshall.
Though they started school at different times, the two overlapped in some film classes and remained friends after graduating in successive semesters in 2017.
Roughly two years later, Marshall was being interviewed on TV as one of the Walmart employees advocating for changes – including stopping the sale of guns – within the company, and got a call from his friend.
“He very much recognized, ‘Oh, this is something that’s not going to be just a single day news event,’” Marshall said.
Smat was drawn to the complexity of the tragic story that touched many people’s lives and had a major impact on politics, culture and Texas.
“One of my least favorite things is when, especially with documentaries, they’re going to answer all the questions at the end of the movie,” he said. “And I think that a lot of the questions that we ask in this movie are more complex than a simple answer might dictate.”
Smat wanted the film to discuss some of those important questions: What rights do individual employees have to speak out? What government policies have been successful and which ones haven’t? What is the best way to prevent future tragedies?
As the director, Smat sought feedback early on in the process from people with a variety of viewpoints in an effort to make sure the film had nuance.
“I started to get to a point where people were saying, ‘OK, you know what, this is really interesting,’ and ‘Here’s the part I don’t think you need,’ or ‘Here’s the part that I want to hear more about,’” he said. “And that really helped me.”
Documentary’s director has been at Lone Star before
Smat had made and debuted a film before, a narrative feature called “The Last Whistle” about a high school football coach trying to navigate a tragedy on his team — without sacrificing their season’s record.
The film premiered at the Lone Star Film Festival nearly five years ago.
The group tries to stay in touch with directors they’ve worked with in the past, Lone Star Film Festival Executive Director, Chad Mathews, said.
“What’s interesting about Rob is that most filmmakers that do a narrative feature like he did, usually stay in that category,” Mathews said. “They don’t really venture out into documentaries, but he found a story that he found compelling and he went with it.”
The film society aims to host screenings about once a month, highlighting filmmakers and stories with Texas ties.
Even though Marshall and Smat had worked together on film projects in school, this experience was different.
“I was always behind the camera. I was always helping other people make stuff. I was never in front, especially as a subject,” Marshall said. “It was just completely surreal.”
When he and his colleagues started their initial push inside of the company, it was unclear what changes, if any, might happen.
“Even four years on, the news of mass shootings is near constant,” Marshall said. “It’s something, especially for me and a lot of people that I grew up with, feel powerless against.”
Even though some colleagues were fearful of losing their jobs, Marshall said that many of his co-workers were supportive of the decision to speak out.
“That was the real motivation that gave me the courage to take that first step and go forward,” he said.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.