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The Gits – SXSW Film Festival

The Gits (Kerri O’Kane)

“When Jessy and I first heard The Gits, we both knew that this band was truly unique and innately talented,” says documentary filmmaker, Kerri O’Kane.

And the Jessie she refers to is Jessica Bender, a friend and film colleague that would go on to produce her film, which chronicles the life of a Seattle band that was on the rise until the fateful day when they lost their leading lady, Mia Zapata.


As the weeks closed in on the beginning of SXSW, I had been getting a number of mailers from publicists and independent filmmakers to promote the screenings of their works of celluloid art. But my eyes popped when I saw “The Gits” on a hand written card.

I carried that card with me to Austin.

It has been over a decade since I first learned of the death of Mia Zapata in 1993, since my friends and I had traveled to Seattle for Bumpershoot in 1994 and heard the remaining members of The Gits perform under a new moniker, Dancing French Liberals of ’48. And a few years later while DJing at a college station, when I came across a compilation to promote a new organization to teach women self-defense called Home Alive.

The night of July 7, 1993, Mia had been hanging with her friends at a bar one night and on her walk home, was brutally raped and killed. Home Alive was born from that tragedy, and the programs of self-defense for women have spread from Seattle to cities across the country.

It was the discovery of this organization that sparked the idea in Kerri’s mind to find out more about who the woman was that inspired this nonprofit.

Taken from The Gits website, Kerri explains, ”After surfing the net and finding dozens of sites about her it was clear that Mia was the singer of The Gits, and sadly, no longer with us. A flood of emotions streamed through me as I read the articles and dedications and learned about what happened to Mia Zapata.

The information I read ripped my heart out yet, having not heard The Gits, I pined the rest of the night anticipating my journey to Tower Records. Finally, 9:00 am approached and I blazed up to the store. There in the back of the store, sort of obscured by the latest music hype, I found it, Seafish Louisville: The Gits.

My heart palpitated as the CD revolved in the player of my car. I sat there silently as a slowly building riff echoed out of the speakers, then, there was a voice, a beautiful incomparable voice, ‘I woke up this morning, dizzy in my brain . . .’

That was all I needed to hear to know that I was about to go on a journey of a lifetime. From that point on, it has indeed become a remarkable journey that I will never forget.”

It was a packed house on the Wednesday when the movie screened. One of many “small world” moments happened, as I stood behind Keith Garcia from the Denver Film Society.

Jessica Bender was beaming as she scoped out the line outside, handing out The Gits merch and taking to fans of the band.

As the film unfolded the story of how the group got started in Ohio, made their way to their new home in Seattle, and began to really carve a place for themselves and their music, you couldn’t help but think of where they could have gone.

Even more than that, the film shows other sides of Mia that no one could have known from afar, from in front of a stage or in a car listening to their music. The songwriter, the daughter, the friend with no boundaries.

Kerri O’Kane, Lorena David, Jessica Bender

She was undeniably the Janis Joplin of our generation.

Kerri and the crew did an amazing job and pulling the story together, and actually screened the film in 2005. But that ending would change, as a new way of using DNA evidence from saliva was used to finally capture and convict Mia’s murderer.

Their cameras were there in the courtroom as the guilty verdict was read, and you couldn’t help but weep with all of Mia’s friends and family who knew they could finally put it all to rest.

When the lights came up and the tears were wiped dry, Kerri invited everyone to an Irish pub down the street, where she humbly talked about the years of making the film and the difficulties she had overcome. But this night was one of celebration, a dedication to the people behind the film and the people of the film.


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