Columbia native's film explores Seattle band, singer's death

Tuesday, June 3, 2008 | 6:39 p.m. CDT; updated 1:24 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — When Jessica Bender returns to her hometown of Columbia this Saturday, the Rock Bridge High School graduate will be showing a documentary at Ragtag Cinema that has been six and a half years in the making.

In January 2002, Bender, 39, and longtime friend and director of the film, Kerri O’Kane, 40, began work on a documentary about the Seattle band The Gits, whose front-woman, Mia Zapata, was murdered in 1993. She was 27.

If you're going

WHAT: “The Gits,” a documentary directed by Kerri O’Kane and produced by former Columbian Jessica Bender. 80 minutes. Not rated. WHEN: 9:30 p.m. Saturday WHERE: Ragtag Cinema, 10 Hitt St. ADMISSION: Tickets are $8 for adults, $7 for senior citizens and students

“The Gits” documents the band’s rise to near fame until its lead singer’s tragic death.

The band was formed in 1986 in Ohio when its members were still in college. Three years later, they moved to Seattle just as the city was getting a reputation for grunge music, and the local music community soon embraced the band.

O’Kane learned about Zapata and the Gits while researching another documentary and said she kept telling Bender the band’s storywould be a great movie.

“I think it’s a universal film. It speaks not only about a musical level, it speaks about a human level and the human condition,” O’Kane said. “It really shows the tenacity of what humans can do if we put our minds together.”

When O’Kane and Bender started working on the documentary in 2002, Zapata’s killer was still at large. It was not until 2003, a decade after Zapata’s murder, that the killer, Jesus Mezquia, then 48 , was arrested.

O’Kane said her favorite part of making the movie was the day she got the phone call saying Mezquia had been caught.

“It was quite a joy, and it brought a lot of relief,” O’Kane said.

The rough cut of the film was finished in 2005, and the final cut was completed in mid-2007. Since then, “The Gits” has been screened several times, including at the South by Southwest festival in Austin. The film also has been shown in Brazil, Canada, Denver and throughout much of the Pacific Northwest. Bender said film-goers have offered a wide range of responses.

“When they walk out, they are pretty upset, stunned, inspired and also angry that this woman was taken from us,” Bender said. “It is a very effective story.”

“The Gits” does not have an official rating, but because of language, Bender said it would be rated R. Bender will be at the screening at the Ragtag on Saturday night to answer questions about the 80-minute documentary. She said this is the only scheduled screening in Columbia, but if it does well, it may be shown again.

Bender graduated from Rock Bridge High School in 1987. For the last 15 years, she’s worked as a sound technician in Los Angeles. This year, she worked on the set of the television show “Brothers and Sisters,” and last year, she worked with “Monk.”

As for coming home to Columbia, Bender said she’s excited to be back and spearheading the effort to bring the film “home.”

“It’s great,” she said. “I actually pursued it myself.”

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