I just saw Gus Van Sant’s ELEPHANT and at the end there was a disclaimer saying that any similarity to actual events or persons is completely coincidental. How can he say this? I know it’s not a retelling of the Columbine story, but it sure shares a resemblance.
I’m curious how Van Sant would answer, and whether there was any discussion about exactly what the end crawl should say. The phrasing of “any similarity to actual events or persons is completely coincidental,” is pretty much boilerplate these days, designed to protect against libel and defamation in case Hannibal J. Lector of Boise, Idaho gets annoyed that people mistake him for a devious cannibal. Most movies say something like this, sandwiched between the American Humane Association disclaimer and the IATSE logo.
Was it fair to use the phrase in this case? In my opinion, sure.
Although the Columbine shootings were certainly the inspiration for ELEPHANT, the story itself — that is, the characters, the scenes, the dialogue — was fictional. The movie didn’t purport to be about that particular Colorado high school, but rather the culture of high school violence. The Columbine killings were “the elephant in the room,” but were never directly addressed in the sense of Michael Moore’s BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE. While another filmmaker might choose to phrase it differently, one can understand Van Sant’s desire to draw a distinction between his movie and the real events that happened at Columbine.