"The 51-day FBI siege of the Mount Carmel compound and its Branch Davidian inhabitants in Waco, Texas, began Feb. 28, 1993, with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raiding it for illegal possession of firearms and explosives. And it ended April 19, 1993, when shots were fired and the compound burned to the ground, killing close to 80 Davidians, including about 20 children. Many Americans were glued to their television sets watching the compound, and the Davidians that lived there, burn to the ground.
Even after 10 years, the FBI maintains they didn't shoot a single shot, but Sommer tries to dispute that fact in her documentary.
One researcher on the project, Mike McNulty, found FLIR (forward looking infrared) footage, which measures thermal energy that can't be detected by the human eye, that showed gunfire going into the Davidian church, which raised the question: "Was the FBI lying?" Once news stations passed on the discovery footage, Sommer thought it would make a good documentary.
"Little did we know that we would uncover so much more and that our film would tell a broader story," she said in an interview from her home in Los Angeles.
Research began in 1995, and it took about two years to complete the film, which premiered at The Sundance Film Festival in 1997. Along with the FLIR footage, the Davidian attorneys allowed Sommer's team access to boxes of documents the government "disgorged during various legal actions," she said.
Sommer admitted it's impossible to be 100 percent positive as to what exactly happened that day, but her film does raise a question of doubt.
"There's plenty of blame to go around," she said. "No one can claim perfection."
The Branch Davidians religious group, a modification of the Seventh-Day Adventists, and its leader, David Koresh, had "an unusual view of the Bible and religion," Sommer said. But even though their interpretation was offbeat, she said they had the right to live outside mainstream society. But that was a revelation that took her years to reach.
"When I first saw the pictures of the Davidian church burning back in April of 1993, it never occurred to me that there might be another side to the story."
This documentary not only disputes the idea of who shot first, but presents the Davidians in a different light. After the years of research and getting to know these people from their files and footage, Sommer said it made her think. At first, she considered herself to be fairly liberal and open-minded, but through the film-making process she realized she was much more prejudice than she perceived because she believed what most people thought -- those characters were crazy.
She learned no matter what their beliefs, they were still Americans and therefore deserved the same rights and privileges of citizenship she enjoys."
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Official 'Waco - Rules of Engagement' Website
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