05 November 2018

Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn

I am pleased to announce the Washington premier of an important investigative documentary film. “Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn,” will premier on November 14 at 7 PM in Landmark’s E Street Cinema, located at 555 11th Street NW, Washington DC.  Attached FYI is the official flyer by the sponsors of this premier.  

This superb documentary shows how the interests, idealism, and safety of young soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen at the pointy end of the spear are short shrifted time after time by contractor-friendly decision-making priorities aimed at promoting the profits and power of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex.  

If you want to understand why throwing money at the Pentagon always ends in more cries about low readiness, aging, and shrinking forces … and cries for ever higher defense budgets, this movie may anger you, but it is a good place to begin your research.

Chuck Spinney


The Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and the Project On Government Oversight are hosting a screening of the documentary film Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? The poignant picture of one family's tragedy uncovers a long history of negligence and institutional failings that led to the fatal crash of a 53E helicopter, the deadliest aircraft in the military. A panel discussion will follow the film.

We hope you can attend a screening at 7:00pm, with doors opening at 6:40pm on Nov. 14 at Landmark's E Street Cinema. To order tickets, please click the Tickets Available button or follow this link: investigativestudios.ticketleap.com/who-killed-lt-van-dorn-dc/ 

Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn?
Written, Directed, and Produced by Zachary Stauffer
Associate Producer Jason Paladino
Contact: zachary.stauffer@gmail.com or 415-420-3032

Logline: “Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn?” is an intimate portrait of a deadly 2014 Navy helicopter crash that exposes how military, political and business leaders have failed our men and women in uniform.

One Paragraph Synopsis: Lt. Wes Van Dorn, a 29-year-old United States Naval Academy graduate and the married father of two young sons, died when the helicopter he was piloting crashed off the coast of Virginia during a 2014 training exercise. Motivated by her grief, his wife Nicole sought an explanation for the cause of the disaster. Her efforts spurred an investigation that uncovered a long history of negligence and institutional failings around the 53E helicopter—the model Van Dorn was piloting when he was killed, and the deadliest aircraft in the US military. Through incisive reporting and interviews with Van Dorn’s colleagues and family, Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? is at once a poignant picture of one family's tragedy, as well as a revelatory inquiry into the murky inner-workings of the American defense establishment.

Film Website: vandornmovie.com

--San Francisco Chronicle

--The Mercury News

--The Nation magazine

Audience Award for Active Cinema at the Mill Valley Film Festival

Director Bio: Zachary Stauffer is a staff producer at UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program and its primary director of photography. Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? is his first feature documentary. Throughout his career, he’s contributed to a number of documentary films, many for PBS Frontline, including Money and March Madness (2011), Murdoch’s Scandal (2012), and the DuPont award-winning Rape in the Fields (2013), and its follow-ups, Rape on the Night Shift (2015) and Trafficked in America (2018). His short documentary, A Day Late In Oakland (2008), about the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey, was nominated for two IDA awards.

Backstory: “Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn?” is the first feature documentary produced at the Investigative Reporting Program at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley (IRP) by its new production arm Investigative Studios. Until now, the IRP has been largely known for the work of its founder, Lowell Bergman, on PBS Frontline and other outlets, including most recently this April, “Trafficked in America.”

This story story began when Associate Producer Jason Paladino, then a graduate student at the Graduate School of Journalism, lost his high school friend, aircrewman Brian Collins, on Van Dorn’s flight. The two grew up together in Truckee. After talking with Collins’s friends at the funeral, Paladino suspected that there might be a story to pursue on the Navy and Marine 53E helicopters and began to work on an investigation for his master’s thesis. That’s when he met Mike Hixenbaugh, a military reporter at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, who had already started digging into the story of the 53. They opened up a collaboration and both became fellows at the IRP after Paladino graduated. They published a series of stories in the newspaper and, with the help of the IRP, a four-minute investigation on NBC Nightly News.

First-time director Zachary Stauffer, a staff producer and DP at the IRP, saw a larger story in Van Dorn’s death and began developing it as a film. What could explain the safety record of the 53, which has killed 132 people? What could the story of this helicopter tell us about how America’s military and the defense industry work? “Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn?” gathers all the strands from years of research—the emotional personal stories, the investigative findings and the context—and weaves them into a single unforgettable narrative.

Over the course of production, six alumni and 12 current students at the Graduate School of Journalism have worked on the film, reflecting Bergman’s teaching philosophy, that the best way to learn journalism is to do it. 

About Investigative Studios: Investigative Studios, Inc. is a nonprofit corporation formed for the purpose of newsgathering, journalism education and media production in support of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and its Investigative Reporting Program.

About The Investigative Reporting Program: The IRP is a professional newsroom and teaching institute at the University of California, Berkeley. We are committed to reporting stories that expose injustice and abuse of power while training the next generation of journalists in the highest standards of our craft.