"Bomb City" sounds like it’s a war movie – and it is, in a way. It’s a Texas culture war movie, bringing to screen the brief life of Brian Deneke, the Amarillo punk rocker and skater killed in 1997 at the age of 19 during a confrontation between punks and jocks that tore the city apart.
While the uproar wasn’t widely known outside the Panhandle, it’s imprinted on those who grew up in Amarillo, like "Bomb City" director Jameson Brooks, who was 12 when Deneke was murdered in a shopping mall parking lot. Football player Dustin Camp was found guilty of voluntary vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years probation, though he later went to prison for eight years for parole violations.
"I always remember the fight happened at a place called Western Plaza and there was an IHOP right across the street from it," said Brooks by phone from Dallas, where he now lives. "I always went to that IHOP with my friends, and every time that I’d go there after all this happened, everything I could ever remember was ‘this is where that fight went down. This is where that punk rocker died.’ "
It’s no surprise then that when it came time for Brooks, who had made six short films after attending University of North Texas in Denton, to make his first feature he decided to tell Deneke’s story. The film is opening Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse.
Brooks co-wrote the script with another Amarillo friend, Sheldon Chick, and got another, Major Dodge, to co-executive produce. Both friends are older and had more firsthand knowledge of the punk scene that Deneke was a part of.
"This was a no-brainer," said Brooks, 32. "We felt like we wanted to be a part of Brian Deneke’s story and to help spread the message about intolerance."
A little help from Brian’s friends
The first thing the filmmakers had to do was get the permission of the Deneke family. "We wouldn’t have done it without them on board," Brooks said. "That was probably the hardest thing that we’ve had to do was sit across from them and ask to tell their murdered son’s story. … But they have been amazingly supportive.
"A lot of Brian Deneke’s friends came on board and they helped us out. They gave us a lot of nuggets in there about Brian. And Dave Davis, who plays Brian, actually worked with a lot of Brian’s friends, just to kind of get the mannerisms down: how he skated, what he would say, all that kind of stuff. It was really a cool process."
The result doesn’t seem like a low-budget indie, having the look and feel of a more mainstream film.
"I’m a very big fan of cinematography. … Jake Wilganowski, our cinematographer, (and I) we’d always toss around and play with some anamorphic looks, which are the lenses that we used to make it a little more like not just an indie film, give it a little bit more style."
Mostly though, viewers come away with an appreciation for Brian’s struggle against a conformist football-forever culture that he and his friends found smothering. Brian and his equally outcast buddies ended up having to find rough comfort in each other while those who didn’t understand either mocked them or fought them.
Two decades later, Brooks says things aren’t quite the same in Bomb City, the town’s nickname because of the presence of the Pantex nuclear weapon assembly and disassembly plant. The city has grown up in some ways.
"It has a very cool, eclectic part about it," he said. "It’s hard to explain because it’s a very conservative community (but) it’s a melting pot of art. You have this super-conservative aspect and then you have the other kids who don’t want to be part of the status quo … And it’s not just punks, but you’ve got the hippies and the more outsider people, alternative lifestyles."
Showing the film on home turf
Brooks discovered how much Amarillo has changed when "Bomb City" recently screened for 1,300 people at the city’s Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts. C.J. Ramone, bassist for the iconic punk band The Ramones, was brought in to host.
It was the first time the film had been shown in the city, and Brooks admits he was nervous.
"It could have been a very hostile kind of situation because there’s a lot of these emotions that we’re bringing up," Brooks said. "It’s been 20 years, but still, it’s scratching an itch of so many people and so many people who knew Brian."
Brooks says his skittishness turned out to be unnecessary. "It was insane," he said. "And C.J. was amazing. He was very adamant about ‘Look, this is the message: We’re not portraying Brian’s death, we’re celebrating his life. And that’s why we’re here tonight.’ So, it was really cool."
If Deneke were coming of age in Amarillo now, he might not have it quite so hard, says Brooks.
"The internet has kind of opened up a lot of windows now," he said. "(But) self-expression will always be looked at or frowned up in communities like that. We want to try and get it to where people can embrace it and people will accept it and actually celebrate it."