'It's not 1997 anymore': Brian Deneke death revisited in 'Bomb City,' screening Tuesday in Amarillo
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
The death of 19-year-old Brian Deneke in 1997 was a generation-defining event in Amarillo, leading to a contentious court case and national media attention.
Now, the tragedy has inspired a feature film by Amarillo natives Jameson Brooks, Sheldon R. Chick and Cody Chick. Bomb City will be seen in a special advance screening at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Buchanan St., before its national release Feb. 9 in select theaters and on demand.
Tuesday's screening will include a Q&A session with cast and crew, hosted by C.J. Ramone, former bassist and singer for The Ramones. Limited tickets remain at $20 each; a portion of proceeds will benefit Family Support Services.
Deneke was plowed down Dec. 12, 1997, in a shopping mall parking lot by 17-year-old Dustin Camp during a brawl between Deneke's punk friends and Camp's jock pals at the old Western Plaza at Interstate 40 and Western Street. Camp was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years probation, then later jailed for five years after probation violations.
Though Brooks and Sheldon Chick were 12 and 15 years old respectively, Deneke's death had a major impact.
"Western Plaza and the IHoP (International House of Pancakes) was kind of the nucleus of the town," said Brooks, now 32. "We would meet up with friends form other high schools and stuff ... and I would remember that that was where the big fight happened, that this was where the punk rock kid was killed."
"The MTV thing (a 2000 documentary, Criminal: Punks vs. Preps) really stuck out in my mind," said Chick, now 35. "I was watching it in Amarillo and it was about Amarillo."
Neither knew Deneke, but Chick's connections in the local music scene and Brooks' ties to the skateboard community meant they had several friends in common. When they began expanding their Dallas video production company, 3rd Identity Productions, beyond music videos and commercials and into the feature realm, focusing on a story close to home felt natural.
"It was a no-brainer when we looked back on our roots," Brooks said. "The one story that always stuck with us was this, of course. It's crazy that it hadn't been told on the big screen."
Before business partner Major Dodge, who told the Dallas Observer that he remembers hearing about the Deneke death while growing up in Indiana, began helping raise money, Brooks and Chick approached the Deneke family to get their approval.
"Me and Sheldon were nervous as hell to meet the Denekes," Brooks said. "I had my mom (Vicki Brooks of Baptist Community Services) coordinate a meeting at Roasters. We were terrified."
But the family was on board: "I'm sure they were skeptical about it at first, but the more we got to know them and they got to know us, they're literally our family now," Brooks said.
"We were definitely a little reluctant at first," said Jason Deneke, Brian's older brother who still lives in Amarillo. "We just wanted to make sure they were going to do it right and that their intentions were in the right place."
"We started talking to them before we even began the writing process," Chick said. "Without their blessing, it never would have happened."
Filming took place mostly in Dallas, though some exteriors were shot in Amarillo in 2016.
The filmmakers chose to tell the story almost exclusively from the perspective of Deneke (played by Dave Davis) and his friends and family, chosing not to reach out to Camp or his family and even deciding to rename Camp's character in the film (to Cody Cates). The film also renames Camp's defense attorney to Cameron Wilson instead of Warren L. Clark; he's played by the film's most recognizable face, Glenn Morshower of 24 and Friday Night Lights fame.
"Our intention isn't to bring ill will to anybody," Brooks said. "We wanted to show how this horrible event went down and how we can prevent it from happening again."
Bomb City hit the festival circuit in 2017, winning awards in Dallas, Nashville and elsewhere. But the idea of a hometown premiere is nervewracking, according to the filmmakers, who chuckled warily when asked how they thought the Amarillo screening would go.
"We're nervous as hell, obviously," Brooks said. "We're told that it will be well received, but we don't know."
"To me, it's not 1997 anymore," Chick said. "The world has changed dramatically since then. The community, I think, grew a lot out of that.
"I hope that people take it as a glimpse into the past and instead of taking offense, they take action," he continued. "Hopefully, it resonates with people."
Jason Deneke echoed their feelings.
"I think some of the same problems always have been and probably always will be here, but I think overall, a lot of people's attitudes have changed on people's differences," he said. "I hope it doesn't (stir up old emotions). There is that possibility there, but I think people have grown up since then."