Coping with Tragedy
“After Parkland” gives us an up close and personal look at tragedy, revisiting the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting from the perspective of those who were there the day when 17 students were murdered. They share first-hand experiences, as well as actual cell phone camera footage taken by students as they were running for cover. We learn how terrifying it was to live through the event. What also comes across is the anger and outrage of the Parkland community, stirred up by what many of them see as a situation that’s become all too familiar in America.
Directors Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman follow a cross-section of Parkland residents, all of whom have a connection to the shooting. They rise up and speak out. The comments are not always the same. While students such as David Hogg call for stricter gun laws, others like Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed by the gunman, demand more resources for school safety instead. Survivor Victoria Gonzalez, whose boyfriend Joaquin was among the victims, simply tries to live her life despite the profound feeling of loss hanging over her. Time is equally divided between their subjects, respecting everybody’s right to process what happened in their own way. Some viewers may find the reactions frustrating at times.
The most compelling moments center on the re-opening of the school two weeks after the shooting. There is a massive police presence, which on the one hand represents a community coming together, but some students claim they don’t actually feel safer and that nothing has been done legislatively to ban assault weapons. Their frustration leads to protests intended to keep the shooting on people’s minds, which eventually connect them to larger national movements to bring about real change. The filmmakers show how the community of Parkland also needs to heal.
At one point, we see students taking part in anti-gun walkouts at towns and cities across the country, and the sight of thousands gathered together to make their voices heard is powerful. They are a portrait of resilience. Unfortunately, such a setting has become too commonplace to fit a particular place or time..
In the first few minutes cries and camera-phone footage stream across the screen in a harrowing and sad opening. The video puts the shooting within a specific period, as the intimacy and visceral availability of such footage is a recent phenomenon. We see the horrifying 6-plus minutes the students experienced that day. It is impossible to see this film with dry eyes.
Interviews with parents like Andrew Pollack (father of Meadow Pollack) and Manuel Oliver (father of Joaquin Oliver), and with students like David Hogg, Samuel Zeif, Brooke Harrison, Victoria Gonzalez, and Dillon McCooty dominate the documentary. Much like the larger political discussions surrounding the nation, no one feels sure of how to proceed, to grieve, to fix the causes of their collective tragedy.
This is not an anti-gun documentary— the film doesn’t lend itself to either side. Clear opportunities exist for the filmmakers to pit the conservative solutions of respective parents against the liberal-activist demands of the students but the directors do not indulge in this. Instead, they make a personal accounting of grief and the courage to continue living. The footage of other “post-tragedy” events, like the school prom or graduation place a hevy weight on each passing day. We are reminded of the memories parents and their children were robbed of.
The most poignant scene takes place when the students return for their first day of school. Faces of incoming freshman flash across the screen, teenagers who are only aware of their new school through news coverage. Life continues and is a reminder of the world’s cruel fact. It is not hard to forget the tragic stories that we’ve all heard since that day. The film gives us a look at what happened after the shooting and the far-reaching impacts those 6 minutes and 20 seconds had on so many people.
The survivors, as well as the families of the victims, vowed that the deaths of their sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, and friends would not be in vain. They reached out to their local representatives and challenged them in public forums. They organized marches and helped to register new voters. They wanted this to be the last time this kind of thing happened and they were going to make sure that their voices were heard. We see how people like David Hogg and Andrew Pollack lived their lives after the shooting. They and so many others refused to rest.
We are reminded that this happened in February 2018, and by the end of that year there were 340 Mass Shootings in the US in which 373 people died and 1346 were injured. This is a film that must be seen and then, perhaps, we will vote out of power those politicians who seem fine to continue having blood on their hands.