Filmmaker SK takes a look at Station Fire in new documentary | News
SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RI — Local filmmaker David Bellino will share deeply personal stories of lives forever changed by the Station nightclub fire in 2003 in his new documentary about the tragedy, airing this weekend.
Premiering on the REELZ Network at 8 p.m. Feb. 20 — the 19th anniversary of the fire that claimed 100 lives — is Bellino’s “America’s Deadliest Rock Concert: The Guest List.”
The details of the Station tragedy are well known in Rhode Island. It remains the deadliest rock concert in America. Over 200 people were injured and it devastated the tight-knit community of West Warwick.
On the night of February 20, 2003, more than 400 music fans gathered at the small Station nightclub. Just seconds after 80s sensation Great White took the stage, pyrotechnics ignited a fire that raced up the walls and through the ceiling of the crowded venue.
Within 90 seconds, most of those who had not yet escaped would be trapped inside. They would be burned alive, identified days later only by dental records or tattoos.
An ensuing legal battle on behalf of the victims’ families dragged on for years afterward.
The film, Bellino said, is much more than a retelling of the tragedy.
“This documentary tackles timeless themes of personal responsibility, loss, courage and forgiveness,” he said. “People connected to this event are struggling to cope with the aftermath of the disaster – some gracefully, others less so. It’s an abject lesson in the tragic potential of bad decisions.
Bellino, a graduate of the University of Rhode Island, is in a unique position to tell the story from a different perspective – that of the participants.
He moved to the West Coast in the 1980s and began touring and directing music videos – the pinnacle of hair metal bands. In the 1990s he got his biggest break, working for about a year with the Rolling Stones.
He returned to Rhode Island in late 2002 to raise a family and remembers the night of the fire well.
“It shook me like everyone else, especially because I was in the industry,” he said.
Bellino knew from that moment that he would at some point tell a story about the fire and its aftermath.
“I didn’t realize it would take this long,” he said. “What I thought was maybe a few years turned out to be many, many years.”
The film explores the fire through stories of survivors and family members and friends of the victims who commemorated their loss through activities ranging from a memorial body art display to the reimmersion in rock culture that originally brought them and their loved ones to the Station.
Also in a series of interviews, Great White frontman Jack Russell shares his search for peace after a nearly two-decade journey of crippling grief and depression after surviving tragedy.
In the afternoon before the concert, Bellino said, Russell met many Great White fans in the West Warwick area and added their names to the guest list for the show that evening.
Weeks after the fire, a charred handwritten notebook page was recovered from the club’s ashes which contained rows of names and above them were the words “Guest List”.
The list became one of the common threads in Bellino’s film.
Local pride and community courage also shines through, as those interviewed recount the fire and reflect on their duty to both remember and move forward in healing, Bellino said. “Survivor Joe Kinan’s courage and even humor in the face of the horrific challenges he faced during his recovery are powerful reminders of the endurance of the human spirit.”
Kinan, who has had 136 surgeries to date, including a hand transplant, will continue to need surgeries for the rest of his life.
“This experience taught me that I am a tenacious person. I persevere every day,” Kinan says in the film.
Viewers will also see rare and shocking footage of the first news crews at the scene tasked with reporting on the horrific event as the families of the victims anxiously awaited news. First responders share their experiences fighting the fire, dealing with casualties and dealing with the chaos as it unfolded.
Pitching the concept for the documentary to a studio was very difficult, Bellino said. But it was a personal attachment to the project that drove Bellino to produce the film independently and then buy it from studios.
Bellino also spent years forging bonds with survivors and their families. That was the biggest challenge of making the movie.
“It took a long time to develop the relationships with everyone in the film,” he said. “It’s a very sensitive subject, a very difficult subject to open up to people.”
“America’s Deadliest Rock Concert: The Guest List” is also partially based on the book “Killer Show: The Station Nightclub Fire, America’s Deadliest Rock Concert,” written by John Barylick, a civil attorney for the victims’ families for seven years. Barylick is a producing partner on the documentary, and much of his years of research and background work served as the basis.
“Everything John did as a legal representative has to be the basis of this film. The amount of research he did was so huge, I couldn’t have done what he did in the seven years and I had his experience,” Bellino said. “That was the starting point.”
Bellino said that after this two-hour broadcast version airs, he hopes to release the documentary in its originally conceived format – a multi-episode series. A DVD and/or Blu-ray release could occur before the 20th anniversary of the fire.
Sunday’s broadcast will be seen by up to 70 million households.
“We are very grateful to REELZ and Hubbard Broadcasting who believed in us enough to offer us distribution in the United States,” Bellino said. “It’s a very important story and there are a lot of lessons to be learned. There are many people who can be helped by looking at what these people have been through. »