The shooting at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012 was the largest school shooting in history. 26 people, 20 of them children, died at the hands of a mentally unstable man with an assault weapon.
I remember it happening. I remember saying to myself at the time, “thank goodness I don’t live in America.” And then I proceeded to feel profound rage and sadness because I couldn’t do anything to support the crisis.
It seemed obvious what Newtown would be about - a story about a man behind a gun. I had prepared myself to once again experience fury at the lack of gun-control in America. And although at times I felt anger while watching Newtown, by the end, I mostly felt an overwhelming empathy for the families affected by that day.
Kim A. Syner (Welcome to Shelbyville) is well-known for her short documentary films, but I have to say, this is her magnum opus. Newtown is told through interviews with the family members who lost loved ones on that fateful day. They reminisce about the lives of their children and talk about the short time they had with them before they were murdered. Their stories are often powerfully interrupted by flashbacks to the 911 calls from the day of the shooting. I found myself vacillating between empathy and anger very quickly.
As humans, our emotions are fluid. Newtown reflects this. My emotional state was never constant. It’s a very effective storytelling method.
Aspects of Newtown are very polished. It’s a deliberate political attempt to push gun control. But Syner doesn’t focus on this issue much. The stories of grieving parents speak for themselves. This film tells the stories of the fallen, rather than the story of the man who committed this hideous crime.
As one father said - “you can only imagine how difficult and challenging it is to try and interpret what your seven-year-old experienced, as he was being murdered, by a gun, in his first-grade classroom.”
Newtown may not be pleasant to watch, but it is one of the most powerful and profound experiences you will have in documentary cinema because it asks you the question, how would you feel if this loss was one of yours and what would you do about it?