Following a deadly mass shooting at Stoneman-Douglas High School, the family, friends, and country of those who were killed grapple with its meaning, effects, and loss in their lives.
I was fortunate to see this film at the Traverse City Film Festival, before it got a distribution deal. As I sat down in my seat, listening to the Native American flute being played as a preamble to the documentary we were about to watch, I scrolled on my phone.
That was when I first saw the posts about an ongoing shooting at a Walmart in El Paso. Before the film, the emcee asked for a moment of silence for the people in El Paso. We didn’t know yet how many had been killed.
After the film, everyone was checking their phones to find out the same thing. 17 dead. As I mulled this film over in my mind, as I watched it and as I thought later, knowing that another shooting was happening even as I watched it was a sobering thought. Surreal.
Now as I write this article, having just lowered the flag at Family Video where I work to half mast, i find myself appreciating this film and what I learned from it more than I had expected when I first selected it for one of my precious film festival slots.
This documentary is a great example of what some documentaries are capable of doing. Many struggle to accomplish this feat because just finding enough pieces to create a movie that makes sense can be difficult when you are having to rustle up footage from years ago and splice it into interviews conducted later. For the team that made “After Parkland” they were fortunate to not only be covering a story which captivated millions and played on the news for weeks (meaning lots of footage to work with), they also were on the ball when it came to flying down within a day to start filming for the movie. With circumstances like that, they are able to be assured that the plot driven part of the film will come together more easily and focus on the truly rare find in documentaries, something that transcends plot.
I’ll admit it. My expectation of this film would that it would primarily be political in nature and chronicle various efforts to pass gun control reform measures into law. I thought it would be primarily about activism. It is about those things but it does several things I did not expect and, I would argue, is not primarily about gun control.
First, this film is far more balanced than I thought it would be. Maybe balanced isn’t the right word. Balance implies that there is a debate in the film about whether we should pass new gun laws or arm teachers or a million other things and they all get equal time and treatment. This is not the case. It does, however, present a holistic picture where the various viewpoints of many people are given. Some of the parents who lost kids are for stricter gun laws. Some are not. Some kids who lost friends want to march in the streets. Others do not. Some want to go into politics. Some just want to return to normal life.
This is actually how the film transcends. By not choosing to emphasize one side over the other we end up getting a window into people’s hearts and lives that wouldn’t be possible with a more propaganda style film. Because the choice was made to not make a propaganda film the film begins to feel subtextually about grief. It’s about loss. It’s about the ways that people react to grief and loss differently.
It doesn’t ask you which side of the debate you are on. It asks you how you would feel. What you would do. Would you lock the door to your room like one girl who lost three best friends? Would you create a street art piece in honor of your murdered son? Would you go to prom even though your boyfriend was killed? This movie puts you in touch with people’s hearts and invites you into their pain.
This film isn’t going to change people’s minds about policy whether federal law or school rule. I hope however that people who hotly debate those issues will watch it and remember it as mass shooting continue to become a part of our daily lives in America. The news cycle may not be interested with connecting your soul to the hearts of others who are in pain and Facebook may algorythmize you into any camp they want but this film wants you to feel and connect. Is that what you want from your films or would you rather watch something that makes you forget about all the pain and hardship surrounding us?
Review Written By: