Rich Heldenfels

There’s been a lot of talk coming out of the Sundance Film Festival about two films drawing on the same dreadful event in 1974.

And that event involved a former Hudson resident.

In 1974, Christine Chubbuck, public affairs manager and TV host for a station in Sarasota, Fla., announced on the air that she was going to commit suicide, took out a revolver and shot herself in the head. She died 14 hours later.

Chubbuck, 29, was born in Hudson, attended elementary school there and later graduated from Laurel School in Shaker Heights. According to reports after her death, she went on to Miami of Ohio, then Endicott Junior College before completing her college education at Boston University.

Her professional work included doing public relations and promotions for WVIZ (Channel 25) in the mid-1960s. She had been at WXLT, the ABC affiliate in Sarasota, since 1973 when she shot herself, promoting it as “in keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts.”

She had reportedly told at least one colleague before the telecast that she planned to shoot herself, but it was thought to be a bad joke. After her death, people spoke of her battling depression and loneliness.

“She was a wonderful person, very brilliant but never terribly happy,” one friend told the Beacon Journal shortly after Chubbuck’s death. But her means of dying has made her more famous than she was in life.

Although footage of the shooting has disappeared and may have been destroyed, Vulture.com recently reported on ongoing, ghoulish searches for the footage by fans of grisly incidents. There is also a 2012 musical, Reporting Live, about Chubbuck.

‘Network inspiration?

The news about Chubbuck’s death is thought to have inspired Paddy Chayefsky, then working on the script for the 1977 film Network, in which a news anchor announces on the air that he will kill himself. But Dave Itzkoff’s book about the making of Network says it is unclear whether the incident was a factor in the movie; Chayefsky’s notes at the time of the suicide make no mention of Chubbuck’s actions.

What is clear is that two Sundance movies, Christine and Kate Plays Christine, were inspired by Chubbuck.

Fictional account

Christine is a dramatization, with English actress Rebecca Hall as the title character. Sundance’s summary says: “Relentlessly motivated to succeed, she knows she has talent, but being a driven career woman in the 1970s comes with its own challenges, especially when competition for a promotion, unrequited love for a coworker, and a tumultuous home life lead to a dissolution of self.

“With ratings in the cellar, WZRB’s station manager issues a mandate to deliver juicier and more exploitative stories, a style firmly at odds with Christine’s serious brand of issue-based journalism. To accomplish her goals, she must overcome her self-doubt and give the people what they want.”

The cast also includes Michael C. Hall (no relation to Rebecca) and Tracy Letts, the playwright, actor and husband of actress Carrie Coon, a former Copley resident. Craig Shilowich wrote the screenplay; Antonio Campos directed.

New documentary

Kate Plays Christine is a documentary, directed by Robert Greene, who was in Akron in December 2014 when the Nightlight theater showed his film Actress.

Chubbuck’s death is part of Kate Plays Christine, which follows actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to play Chubbuck in what Sundance calls a “stylized cheap ’70s soap opera” version of the newscaster’s story.

“To prepare for the role, Kate travels to Sarasota to investigate the mysteries and meanings behind her tragic demise. Filmmaker Robert Greene cleverly forgoes your standard talking-head-and-sound-bite approach to nonfiction storytelling, instead choosing to employ Kate Lyn Sheil as a conduit to understanding an impossibly complex issue,” Sundance says.

“Committed to doing justice to Christine’s life, Kate not only candidly pulls back the curtain on her acting process, but she also reveals the biases and presumptions even supposed experts can provide in their diagnosis,” the festival’s synopsis adds.

Nightlight interested

It is not clear when these films will be seen locally. Kurtiss Hare of the Nightlight said the theater was interested in Kate Plays Christine even before it knew of the Hudson connection because of the admiration for Greene’s work. And the Nightlight generally keeps an eye on movies shown at Sundance. But it can also take a year for films to find their way from Sundance to Akron.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal, Ohio.com, Facebook, Twitter and the HeldenFiles Online blog. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.