A feature film in development about Saanich teen Reena Virk's death at the hands of bullies is more relevant today than it ever was, said producer Larry Sugar.
"The core of the film is Reena's story, but it is really about how small decisions, the little things you do wrong, can change your life in a radical manner," Sugar said.
Fourteen-year-old Reena was bullied and swarmed by a group of teen girls and one boy in the Victoria suburb of Saanich in 1997 after being lured to a party by the group with the intention of assaulting her. After the first beating, the boy, Warren Glowatski, and one girl, Kelly Ellard, dragged Reena down to the river, beat her again and drowned her under a bridge.
The coroner found that Reena's injuries were severe enough that she would have died even had she not been drowned.
"This tragedy is the ultimate example of girl violence and I feel it is important to make a film that illustrates to today's youth the extent to which peer pressure and bullying can go," said Sugar. "Unfortunately, there is more girl violence today than there was in '97. I think that people are less tolerant, he added."
The barrage of mixed messages from the Internet, lax school rules and absent working parents are contributing to a culture in which children become streetwise and experienced before they gain a real moral centre, he explained.
Larry and J.B. Sugar of Vancouver-based No Equal Entertainment are working with thousands of pages of court records and the input of Reena's parents, Manjit and Suman Virk, and their son Aman and his wife Elizabeth. Manjit Virk has recently published a book about his daughter's life and death entitled Reena: A Father's Story. Sugar has asked the Virks to remain as consultants for the entire project and is seeking the film rights to Manjit Virk's book.
"We met with Larry last week, he came down (to Victoria)," said Virk, a native of Punjab with a master's degree in English literature. "We were concerned that he would make a film that glorified violence or sensationalized it."
"He told us that none of that stuff would happen and that it would really show how, with young people, things can go out of control fast and then it's too late," said Virk.
The film rights to another book about Reena's murder —Under The Bridge — were sold to Reese Witherspoon's Type A Productions. That film is also considered to be in development.
"I remember reading about Reena's murder in the news just after I moved to Vancouver," said Larry Sugar. "We started discussing it as a movie right away and the more I looked into it the more I wanted to do it."
With Kelly Ellard's trails and appeals finally exhausted, the movie project can move forward with an assured conclusion. No Equal is shopping for a screenwriter for the project and has received calls from directors who want to be considered for the film.
"I can't tell you the last time that happened," he said. He also said he's in discussions with "a major talent" to play the unredeemable character of Ellard. "It's a very heavy role," said Sugar, adding, "I liken it to Charlize Theron's character in Monster. She's a person without merit and there are not a lot of those."
"Warren (Glowatski) has been totally contrite. He met with the Virk family and the Virks told me that he is somebody who has really taken responsibility," Sugar said. "Kelly showed no such thing."
The film will unfold in two time frames: the trials of Glowatski and Ellard with a parallel storyline based on the events of Nov. 14, 1997.
The Virks have insisted that the film be true to the facts, without embellishment or exploitation, Sugar said.
That won't be a problem.
"The facts of the case are shocking enough," he said. "The story is horrific."
Essential to the film is the deeply personal portrait of young Reena, a troubled teen who struggled with her family's religious convictions and who was rejected by her peers and ultimately destroyed by them.
Shooting is expected to begin early next year.