Directed by: Kim A. Snyder.
The Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting on December 14, 2012 was one of the most horrific incidents I can remember. A mentally disturbed gunman, with an arsenal of weapons, entered a primary school, killed 20 six and seven year olds, and 6 faculty members before taking his own life. Kim A. Snyder’s documentary Newtown is about life in the small town where the massacre took place before, during and especially after that horrible day. It focuses mainly on a few of the parents of the child victims – who somehow have to find a way to move on with their lives, in the wake of an unthinkable tragedy.
For the most part, Newtown is an apolitical film – it isn’t one of these documentaries with an axe to grind, that ends with a URL encouraging you to “get involved”. Its most important goal, I think, is to simply bear witness to the grieving that is still happening in Newtown – and which, to be honest, never will stop. This isn’t to say the film ignores politics completely – that would be dishonest, especially since several of the parents have made it their mission to try and pass sensible gun laws. After all, the killer at Sandy Hook all his guns legally, even with his history of mental problems – and why does anyone need a military style weapon for home use anyway? I’m of the opinion that America has lost their minds on gun laws – and nothing is going to change that. If people can brush off a classroom full of dead first graders as the cost of doing business, they can brush off anything. Some of the parents don’t agree – perhaps because they truly believe they can affect change, or perhaps because they need to believe – they need something to pour their energy into so as not to give into despair.
That’s the overwhelming feeling in Newtown – which is perhaps why this film feels like it has been underseen and under discussed this year. Snyder’s filmmaking is straight forward here – but that’s effective. For the most part, she has her interview subjects look directly into the camera and tell their stories of that day – and the horror they witnessed. This is intercut with remembrances of the families of their children – pictures, videos, etc. We hear from those who had to go inside that school – and while the lead police officer in charge says that people don’t need to know all gory details of what they found inside – quite rightly, especially since there was no one alive to hold responsible in court, he does want people to know the emotional truth of it.
I can understand why people don’t want to see a movie like Newton. If you can get through this movie without crying, I don’t know what that says about you, but it isn’t good (the two moments that wrecked me were when a police officer said when they found one of the students, their teachers arm was around him, so at least he didn’t die alone, or when another teacher would say that some of the surviving students would come up to her and say “I miss Miss Soto” – and she had no idea what to say, so she just hugged them). Yes, I get why you may not want to see this film, and put yourself through that.
But you know something, you owe it to the victims – and yourself – to watch the film. Its only 84 minutes after all, and you can bare that. And considering the epidemic of these incidents across America, which are increasingly being met with a shrug, I think you should see this film. The news covers the incident and the immediate aftermath, and then moves on. Newtown comes back, a few years later, to see how things have healed, or mainly how they haven’t. You should see this film, if for no other reason than to see the never ending pain these incidents cause, and reflect on that the next time one happens, and America collectively shrugs and does nothing to stop the next one from happening.