Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn?, a feature-length documentary from Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program, was named this week as the top documentary at Monterey’s Monarch International Film Festival.
The film premiered in October at the Mill Valley Film Festival. It explores the story of Navy Lt. Wes Van Dorn, who died in a 2014 helicopter crash while flying the Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon, which, along with Marine variant CH-53E Super Stallion, is considered to be the deadliest aircraft in the U.S. military. More than 130 people have died in Sea Dragon or Super Stallion crashes since the aircraft were introduced in 1981.
The film began when associate producer Jason Paladino, then a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, attended the 2014 funeral of a high school classmate who died in the crash that killed Van Dorn. Paladino began investigating and discovered a history of lax maintenance and misplaced bureaucratic priorities. He then began working on the film with director Zachary Stauffer, who graduated from the journalism school in 2008.
“It’s an honor for ‘Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn?’ to be recognized as Best Documentary at the Monarch Film Festival,” Stauffer said. “All of us at the Investigative Reporting Program were proud to win this award. I hope that the the story continues to open people’s eyes and contributes to much needed discussion about how the nation’s defense establishment operates. This award will certainly help the film expand its reach.”
The film is produced in part by the journalism school’s Investigative Reporting Program, a teaching newsroom for UC Berkeley’s journalism students. Six J-School alumni worked on the film, along with 12 current graduate students who got real-world experience contributing to the project.
A schedule of screenings is available on the movie’s website.