Virgil Price wears a wristband honoring one of the victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017. He received the wristband from the victim's family during the filming of "VALIANT," a new documentary profiling the bond between the city and the Vegas Golden Knights.
It was a project between Price, the film's executive producer, and Cruz Angeles, its director and writer, that began as an idea to tell the story of the Golden Knights' magical run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural NHL season. It developed into a tale about how the team and the tight-knit Las Vegas community leaned on each other in the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in United States history.
"I didn't realize the emotional component and how the team helped heal the city until we got out there and started filming," Price said. "And once out there, it was one of the most profound, emotional experiences of my life."
The documentary is available worldwide on DVD and through major video on demand platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Vudu. The film features insight from Golden Knights owner Bill Foley, then-general manager George McPhee, players Marc-Andre Fleury, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Deryk Engelland and Ryan Reaves, entertainers Wayne Newton and Lil Jon, and Las Vegas residents, law officers and first responders.
Price and Angeles each worked on the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary "Fernando Nation," which told the story of former Los Angeles Dodgers pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela. Though Price first had the idea to do a documentary on the Golden Knights' historic season, Angeles wanted to explore the story a little more before committing to the project.
For Angeles, the realization that this was more than just a sports movie came when he was searching Twitter after the Golden Knights lost the 2018 Stanley Cup Final to the Washington Capitals and saw the outpouring from Vegas fans.
"I saw a plethora of tweets from fans saying to the effect of, they lost the Cup, but they won a city," Angeles said. "There were these heartfelt, personal messages. I kept reading these things and thought, 'There's some heart there,' and I wanted to know more from those people."
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Once they were in Las Vegas gathering material for the documentary through interviews, Angeles and Price began to feel the impact of the city's first team from the four major sports leagues and its residents had on each other. Angeles said the packed Golden Knights practices felt like church in a small town where everybody shows up every week and enjoys a sense of community.
"To me the deeper story was giving visibility and honor to a place where a lot of people don't feel like it has or had before, and giving the respect to this community, the ones who service your fun trip to Vegas; the police officers, the firefighters, people who work in hotels, cab drivers," Angeles said. "They all work to make Vegas that fun place America likes to go to and as a filmmaker, that seemed to be the most compelling thing."
To get to that point required a liaison and that was the role played by Engelland, who lived in Las Vegas for many years before the city got the Golden Knights.
Through community work, Engelland became friendly with a lot of firefighters and law enforcement officers. So when the tragedy occurred five days before the Golden Knights' first regular-season game, he pulled the team together and encouraged the players to assist in any way they could, including going to blood banks and doing autograph signings to give residents brief moments of levity.
"Deryk started getting text messages from firefighters basically telling him that the fact that you guys are winning is really helping people and keep it up," Angeles said. "I think it became reciprocal. The team was fueling the city and the town was giving the players the power to get as far as they did."
Golden Knights fans were shown the documentary at T-Mobile Arena at a recent game. Cruz and Angeles say the response has been overwhelmingly positive, but the experience will stay with them both for a long time.
"It started out as a sports movie, but it ended up much, much more than that," Price said. "I really feel humbled having had the honor to produce it."