Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Directed by Kim A. Snyder, this documentary was filmed over the course of nearly three years. It documents the story of the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting. Deeply personal interviews with parents, teachers, siblings, doctors and first responders. Newtown documents a community still traumatized by the senseless killings. The film opens with a surreal slow motion sequence of a small town parade. A pretty baton twirler keeps three batons in motion, the drummers tap their snare drums and the beauty queen sitting on top of a convertible looks over her should and waves at the camera. This is the small town American ideal that is being lost due to gun violence.
December 14, 2012. 154 shots echoed through the Sandy Hook Elementary school's PA loud speakers. The PA system had been turned on in a last minute effort to send a warning. In moments 20 first grade school children were dead along with 6 teachers and school staff. This was the most children shot to get in American history. A fire station was around the corner from the school and that is where parents gathered, hoping to find their children alive. When the mayor announced the number of children dead. The collective reaction was heart wrenching. An EMT remembered going to the school and the first child had a non life threatening injury. She thought, this is good, I am making a difference, but then the next child's body arrived. Most children had been shot 3 to 11 times by large assault rifle bullets that are designed to explode once they enter the body. There is no surviving those kind of wounds. As a doctor described the wounds to a council, a woman behind him broke down in tears. In the interview when the EMT mentioned her second patient, she stopped speaking, her face froze and she fought back tears. There were no words that could describe what she saw. She felt anger at the senselessness of it all, and guilt that there wasn't more she could do.
At a town council meeting a parent spoke up, saying "The right to carry a gun is more important than the life of my child. We need to get our priorities straight," Everyone in the room including the counsel members stood and clapped. However change remains to be seen. Another father yearns to understand his sons final moments as he is being murdered by another child with an AR-15 assault rifle in his first grade classroom. A mother confessed that she is terrified of forgetting what he son looked like. A room full of boxes had hand drawn portraits and gifts from people from around the country and world. She couldn't bring herself to open the boxes. "I just can't do that yet."
The film points to the power of community, and how people came together. Though devastated and fractured, parents began to find a new sense of purpose in trying to stop this from happening again. About 6,000 parents, siblings and activists marched on Washington DC demanding universal background checks on people who buy guns. Congress dragged their feet and the bill was killed. President Obama made a public plea, saying that government can not bring about sensible gun reform, and hopefully the American People can bring about change. No matter what the setbacks are, these parents and activists keep going. From failure comes success, from tragedy comes triumph.
On avenge, 32,000 Americans die every year from gun violence. That means on average 88 people are shot dead every day. The numbers are staggering. A reporter was interviewing a man in war torn Iraq. Homes were bombed out shells and rubble blocked the street. The reporter suggested that the father's son might find a better life in America. The man responded, "Are you crazy, if my son went to America he would be shot to death." The entire world considers America's obsession with guns to be quite insane. One scene in Newtown showed an aerial shot of the Elementary School being destroyed. It is like we are dropping bombs on ourselves here in America. certainly the same wrecking ball awaits Pulse. Jabir Bhatia in a blue turban eloquently voiced his frustration that we in America are unable to bring about sensible change towards peace.
Newtown is opening in NYC on October 8th. On November 2, it is opening in 350 theaters across the country with a live streaming conversation after the film. These open forums are a way for members of the community to finally be heard. The interfaith council discussion after this film went on for well over an hour. An overpowering theme of this conversation was the need for love to overpower hate. It is possible to get involved to stop this violence. We need to open up and meet our neighbors. Isolation is not the answer. The shooters were devoured be hate. What if someone had embraced them? Also, vote. Nevada, California and Maine have gun reform on the ballots. Speak up for those who can no longer speak for themselves.