by Rebecca M. Alvin
Photos courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment
On February 14, 2018, a distraught teenager went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and murdered 17 of his classmates, injured 17 more, and caused irreparable psychological damage to every student there in a matter of six minutes. Like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting before it, where on December 14, 2012 Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people including 20 six and seven year old children, this shooting was a shock that reverberated around the world and caused everyone to feel that a line had been crossed, that now something would change. But here we are more than three years later, and life goes on. The incidents are seen as tragedies that happened in the past. The news crews have moved on. There is no follow-up.
This is the kind of thing documentaries excel at: coming into a story well after it occurred and providing context, analysis, and insights that are not readily apparent in the heat of the moment. In Kim A. Snyder’s new documentary Us Kids, the teenagers who survived the shooting and amassed a huge youth movement against gun violence around the world are the stars. David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Sam Fuentes, Cameron Kasky, Alex King from Chicago, and Bria Smith from Milwaukee, are portrayed not only as activists who boldly pushed through their pain to create a movement that ultimately did result in a change to Florida gun laws (the age limit has been raised to 21) and bring about massive public awareness about the NRA and its level of influence in our government, but also as kids who went through something unimaginable.
In particular, Sam Fuentes, who was shot in both her legs and also suffered facial wounds from schrapnel, struggles with her post-traumatic stress disorder as she tries to maneuver her public image while grieving for the boy who lost his life in front of her that day in their Holocaust Studies class.
The pain and trauma are enough to cause anyone distress, but as the film follows the kids on their tour across America and features current interviews with them reflecting on these experiences, we see children whose lives continue to evolve as they grow into adulthood always with the shadow of this experience upon them. We see the toll media coverage has taken on them, particularly Hogg, who was targeted by right-wing media personalities in the cruelest ways imaginable. In one scene, we see a man at a shooting range, shooting targets with Hogg’s face plastered on them. Yes, he’s literally doing target practice on the image of a child.
These things make Us Kids difficult to watch in some ways, but there is also an underlying strength that makes it hard to take your eyes off of these kids. Snyder does an amazing job of bringing complexity into the highly emotional terrain of a school shooting. She shows us their maturity as well as their youth. The film is completely about their experiences and we rarely even see an adult in the film. It is a tremendous work of portraiture that stimulates rational thought in between moments of emotional gut-punches. This is not the first film about the Parkland kids and it probably won’t be the last, but it is an exceptional documentary that leaves us feeling the mixed feelings we need to have right now.
Us Kids is screening in Waters Edge Cinema’s virtual cinema May 14 – 27. Visit provincetownfilm.org/cinema for tickets and information.