“A school shooting.” Unfortunately, such a setting has become too commonplace to fit a particular place or time. Instead, the three words are as ubiquitous to our gun-culture as bullets to the barrel. But one school shooting: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — felt different than the rest (if such a proclamation can be made without weighing tragedy against tragedy). Directors Jake Lefferman and Emily Taguchi‘s documentary After Parkland poignantly follows current and former students and their parents in aftermath of their devastation.
The documentary wastes little time to ease the audience into the shooting, instead, within the first few minutes cries and camera-phone footage stream across the screen in a harrowing and tearful opening.
The video places the shooting within a specific period, as the intimacy and visceral availability of such footage is a recent phenomenon. Our vicarious experience pails in comparison to the horrifying 6-plus minutes the students encountered that day. Throughout the film’s Tribeca screening, audible sniffles emanated from the attending audience. Through much of After Parkland, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Lefferman and Taguchi’s documentary movingly conducts 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. Much like the larger political discussions surrounding the nation, no one feels sure of how to proceed, to grieve, to fix the root causes of their collective tragedy.
After Parkland doesn’t present itself as an anti-gun documentary. In fact, 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. Thankfully, Lefferman and Taguchi don’t take the bait. Instead, they make a personal accounting of grief and the courage to continue living.
The very act of living, whether through necessary demonstrations and the political awakening these young students experienced, or the statutes Pollack champions, or the art Oliver uses to commemorate his son, carries a palatable sense of awe. And as footage of other “post-tragedy” events, like the school prom or graduation occur, a greater weight is placed on each passing day (the documentary jumps from 7 days, 14 days, 1 month, and nearly a year after the shooting). We, like the parents, are reminded of the memories they and their children were robbed of.
The documentary’s most poignant scene takes place when the students return for their first day of school. Faces of incoming freshman flash across the screen, teenagers only aware of their new school through news coverage. In Lefferman and Taguchi’s After Parkland, life continues — serving as a reminder of the world’s cruel fact.