The Holly: Screening and Discussion

February 12, 2024
6:00 PM EST
World Room
3rd Floor, Pulitzer Hall, Columbia Journalism School
New York, NY, 10027, United States
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Terrance Roberts is a former gang leader who appears to have escaped his past. He is ten years from his days in prison, after which he returned to his historic Denver community to become an activist whose work won him awards and made him the face of a high-profile redevelopment of one of Denver’s civil rights landmarks, Holly Square. But, as the redevelopment is coming to fruition, Roberts shocks the city by shooting a young gang member—at his own peace rally.

Journalist Julian Rubinstein, who grew up in Denver, begins looking into the case and finds himself caught up in a world of gang members, activists, informants, cops, and developers uneasily coexisting in a rapidly gentrifying community. Many of them are also covertly working together on a federally funded law enforcement operation. As the city’s gang violence spikes and Roberts heads to trial facing life in prison, dangerous truths about the neighborhood’s cycle of violence and what happened on the day of the peace rally are revealed.

THE HOLLY is an intimate portrait of one man’s struggle to escape his past and to help solve a mystery that could save him from a life behind bars. But it is also a story of how connections among powerful funders, elected officials, developers, law enforcement—and street gangs—can determine the future of a community.

The screening will be followed by a conversation with film director Julian Rubinstein, activist Terrance Roberts, and CBS Assistant Professor of International Journalism Nina Alvarez.

This event is sponsored by the Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University.

6:00-8:30pm, World Room, 3rd Floor, Pulitzer Hall, Columbia Journalism School


Julian Rubinstein is a journalist, author and documentary filmmaker. His most recent nonfiction book and documentary, THE HOLLY, was reported over eight years in a gentrifying community in Denver, where a misunderstood gang shooting case becomes a window into the political machinations of urban development, policing and the city’s gang activity. The film premiered on Starz and Apple Plus in 2023 and was selected by the International Documentary Association to play in its FallDocs series for Oscar longlisted films. The book was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and winner of the 2022 High Plains Book Award and Colorado Book Award. His first book, Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and a finalist for the Edgar Allan Poe Award. He is a Visiting Filmmaker at Western Colorado University, and a 1992 graduate of the Columbia Journalism School.​


Terrance Roberts is a nationally recognized activist and former mayoral candidate based in Denver. A third-generation resident of the historic Park Hill community, he was co-leader of the Justice for Elijah McClain movement, which resulted in charges and convictions of police and paramedics for the death of McClain and changes in Colorado laws governing police accountability. Before he was an activist, he spent more than a decade as a gang member and almost ten years in prison, after which he returned to his community and founded Prodigal Son, a nonprofit serving at-risk youth, which won multiple awards and led to his selection to the Grio 100 in 2010. Three years later, he was attacked by gang members, some of whom worked for the police, in a case that is dissected in THE HOLLY documentary.


Nina Alvarez is a journalist, documentarian and video photographer. For over twenty-five years, she has reported breaking news and feature stories from around the world, on broadcast and web segments, radio reports and long-form documentaries. She is the CBS Assistant Professor of International Journalism at Columbia Journalism School.





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