Film captures Hunters final crusade
November 10, 2006
The final installment of the Hunter S. Thompson trilogy of films will have its world premiere Nov. 18, closing night of the 29th annual Starz Denver Film Festival.Titled “Free Lisl – Fear and Loathing in Denver,” the film portrays the late Gonzo journalist’s final crusade: an effort to overturn the conviction and imprisonment of Lisl Auman over the Nov. 12, 1997, murder of Denver police officer Bruce VanderJagt.The case arose after Auman, planning to break off relations with her former boyfriend, was offered help from what were said to be Denver “skinheads,” whom she met through a mutual friend.Though uncomfortable in the presence of the skinheads, Auman was convinced the mission to get her belongings back would turn out all right, or perhaps her ex-boyfriend may be frightened into going along with the arrangement once the skinheads were involved. But the retrieval of Auman’s personal items went awry when the skinheads began helping themselves to the belongings of her ex-boyfriend.Police were called and a 30-mile high-speed chase from the boyfriend’s home to a Denver apartment complex ended with VanderJagt being shot to death by one of the skinheads, Matthaeus Reinhart, who then killed himself. Auman, at the time of the shooting, was handcuffed and sitting in the back of a squad car.Police, eager to convict somebody of the cop killing, apparently changed their official reports to implicate Auman, claiming she handed Matthaeus the assault rifle that killed VanderJagt.The case was feverishly publicized, with Auman portrayed as a cold, drug-addled accomplice and “girlfriend” to Matthaeus, all of which was later shown to be inaccurate. At her trial, jurors did not necessarily believe the police version of the events, it was reported. But they nonetheless convicted Auman of “felony murder,” an old law that says anyone implicated in a felony during which a killing occurs can be charged with the murder, regardless of their involvement. She was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, a sentence that was overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court.Thompson learned of the case when Auman wrote to him from prison. Spurred by a certainty that Auman was a victim of injustice, he enlisted the help of a variety of high-powered attorneys, Hollywood celebrities, musicians and others to fight for her release.In 2005, Auman was granted a new trial on a technicality involving the instructions given to the jury by the trial judge, and ultimately was sentenced to 20 years probation. The order for the new trial was handed down in late March 2005, about a month after Thompson shot himself to death at his Woody Creek home.The film recounts Thompson’s and others’ roles in the campaign to “Free Lisl,” and details how Auman, her family and others viewed the Gonzo journalist’s mission.The premiere is at the Denver Press Club, with a second screening the following day at the Starz Denver Film Center. According to event organizers, the second screening was added by popular demand. The same thing happened with the previous film about Thompson by Woody Creek filmmaker Wayne Ewing, “When I Die,” which was premiered last year at the 28th Denver Film Festival.Ewing, who has been Thompson’s official film biographer for some time, has made three feature length films about the internationally known writer and political renegade. The first, released in 2004, was titled “Breakfast With Hunter,” a series of revealing conversations with the author. That was followed by “When I Die,” which chronicled the erection of the cannon that launched Thompson’s ashes into the night skies above Owl Farm, Thompson’s home in Woody Creek, near Aspen, in August 2005, six months after the writer’s suicide.The latest film, Ewing said last week, was not really planned until last spring, after Auman had been released from prison, re-sentenced and had gone through a stint at a halfway house.Ewing interviewed Auman at her parents’ house, along with her mother, stepfather and real father.”I was just blown away by what she had to say and her presence,” he said. “She was blown away by what Hunter did for her.”The film includes footage of the deadly gun battle that ended with VanderJagt’s death, shot by an independent videographer, as well as scenes from the trial.”That’s the real thing … the shots that actually killed [VanderJagt],” Ewing said, referring to the sound of gunfire that erupts during the police standoff.He said it is unlikely that Auman will be at the screening, explaining that she is publicity shy at this point.She allowed herself to be interviewed for the film “as a way of thanking Hunter,” Ewing said.Ewing said he hopes to screen the film in Aspen at some point, but nothing has been arranged.Those interested in tickets for the second screening, or in attending other films, can reach the Denver Film Society at http://www.denverfilm.org or buy tickets at the Starz Film Center, located at the Tivoli Student Union on the Auraria Campus, at 9th Street and Auraria Parkway. John Colson’s e-mail is email@example.comThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.