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Las Vegas mass shooting survivors tell their own story in '11 minutes' documentary

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Other segments from the episode on September 27, 2022

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 27, 2022: Interview with Margaret Burnham; Review of 11 Minutes.



This is FRESH AIR. On October 1, 2017, a lone gunman in Las Vegas took aim at the performers and audience of an outdoor country music festival from his rooms in the Mandalay Bay hotel on the Vegas Strip. He fired rounds of automatic gunfire in bursts over an 11-minute period, killing 58 people and wounding 869 in what's called the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Today, as we approach the tragic event's fifth anniversary, Paramount+ presents a four-hour documentary about it titled "11 Minutes." Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: This Paramount+ documentary, "11 Minutes," takes a notably different approach to retelling the story of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. There's no host, no narrator and, for the first two hours, virtually no footage from TV news stations. Instead, the story is told by interviews with survivors of the event, people who were there as musicians, fans, police, paramedics, nurses, doctors and so on. And it's told mostly through cellphone videos and police body cams, images taken by people in the midst of the drama, as it was happening. And lots of people had their phone cameras running - lots of them.

"11 Minutes" tells its story chronologically and patiently, introducing us to many of the people who, once the shooting begins, will become victims or helpers or both. But at first, we don't know which. All we know is whatever we're told by these people, people like Brady Cook, a rookie officer for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.


BRADY COOK: It was my first day of work as a police officer, and I was assigned to the strip area command, which is where the concert was being held. My dad is an officer as well, so he was working overtime at that event.


COOK: There's a (inaudible) right there.

We got a couple of moments of free time from our day, and I got to actually go say hi to him and take a picture with him for my first day of work as a police officer.

BIANCULLI: You may be stunned by what that young officer experiences that night - and his father and the other people we meet in "11 Minutes" from the twin high school fans who attend the Route 91 Harvest festival to the firefighter determined to save as many lives as he can. Director Jeff Zimbalist, one of several executive producers on this documentary series, lets the participants speak for themselves and the drama, too. It takes most of the first hour of the program before on location police radio reports begin identifying the source of the gunfire.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Upstairs at Mandalay Bay, halfway up. I see the shots coming from Mandalay Bay, halfway up.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Multiple flashes in the middle of Mandalay Bay on the north side. It's, like, one of the middle floors.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Be advised. We are taking fire from a very high floor. We believe it's possibly coming from the Mandalay Bay.

BIANCULLI: From there, it only gets more tense and more frantic, but not more graphic. Surprisingly, this "11 Minutes" documentary is not gruesome. The visuals are selected and edited very judiciously. But you're thrown into the action and the pandemonium anyway as the circumstances and the stories get more emotional. Recording artist Dee Jay Silver was on stage moments before the first shots rang out. And once he reached safety, it wasn't long before he learned that his 1-year-old baby was still in danger because of a horrifying coincidence.


DEE JAY SILVER: My wife, Jenna, she's worried about Wake, our baby. I said, girl, Wake is in the Mandalay Bay. He's in the safest place in the entire planet Earth. Then, I got a text message asking me if I was in my room. And I said, no, I'm down here with Jenna. What's up? And they said my kid's on the same floor as the shooter. My kid's with our babysitter next door to the shooter. The shooter had every room around us except the two that we had. I couldn't breathe, you know? The only reason they were there is 'cause I brought them.

BIANCULLI: Ultimately, "11 Minutes" is a testament to bravery and commitment and empathy. Fred Rogers, when discussing times of tragedy, used to quote his mother, who said, always look for the helpers. That's just what this four-part documentary does beautifully. And intentionally, it doesn't name the shooter although in the final moments of the series, it names all the victims of every U.S. mass shooting since this one in Las Vegas. Accompanying the scroll of names is a song by country artist Eric Church, one of the headliners at that festival. He wrote and performed the song, which is titled "Why Not Me," in the days after the massacre, and it provides a poignant and very appropriate end to a very powerful documentary.


ERIC CHURCH: (Singing) Why you with your long brown hair flowing and you with your fresh tattooed skin and you from the Western Virginia that you'll never get to see again? As darkness descended the desert and a bad actor starred in his play, why you from Tennessee did life capture and me from Tennessee get away? And when the morning sun hit the mountain and a glorious still calmed the breeze, I asked the God of all knowing wisdom, why you and why not me?

DAVIES: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey. He reviewed the new Paramount+ documentary "11 Minutes," which premieres today.

On tomorrow's show, we remember celebrated British writer Hilary Mantel, who died last week at the age of 70. Her trilogy of novels on the life of Thomas Cromwell earned two Man Booker Prizes, a host of other honors, and widespread commercial success. We'll listen to our 2012 interview with her. I hope you can join us.


DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.


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