2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘After Parkland’

May 4, 2019

by Carla Hay

David Hogg in "After Parkland"
David Hogg in “After Parkland” (Photo by Evan Simon)

“After Parkland”

Directed by Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 26, 2019.

Tragically, there have been several mass shootings in the U.S. before and after the shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. But the Parkland shootings (which killed 17 people) will be remembered as the flashpoint for an unprecedented movement of young people against gun violence. The documentary “After Parkland” shows how some of the more well-known Parkland survivors coped with the tragedy in the months after the shooting, and how they channeled their grief into passionate activism.

The documentary features some of the former Parkland students who have been at the forefront of this activism. They include survivors David Hogg, Victoria Gonzalez, Sam Zeiff and Dillon McCooty. Also included are parents Manuel Oliver (whose son Joaquin was murdered in the shooting) and Andrew Pollack (whose daughter Meadow was also a Parkland murder victim).

Zeiff, who turned 18 the day after the massacre, says in the documentary that his boss told him after the tragedy, “You don’t look like a kid anymore.” Gonzalez, who was Joaquin Oliver’s girlfriend, turns to Joaquin’s best friend McCooty for support, and vice versa. Gonzalez and McCooty end up going to their prom together, as a tribute to Joaquin. She wore a flower crown with flowers from the first bouquet that Joaquin gave her.

The grief, anger and resilience over the shootings are felt throughout the entire documentary. One of the most emotionally powerful moments in the film is when Manuel Oliver, who is an artist, did an art installation that showed Joaquin in a graduation cap and gown carrying a certificate of death instead of a diploma, with a red stain of spray paint, signifying blood from a gunshot wound. Manuel Oliver and his wife, Patricia, have started an anti-gun-violence, non-profit organization called Change the Ref, in memory of their slain son Joaquin.

The documentary also takes a behind-the-scenes look at the March for Our Lives event on March 24, 2018. The event, which was organized largely by Parkland survivors, had its flagship rally in Washington, D.C., but there were hundreds of other March for Our Lives rallies around the world that were part of the event.

“After Parkland” also gives an up-close look at how some of the high-profile and outspoken student survivors have been handling their sudden thrust into the media spotlight—and the criticism they have been getting from some people who say that these survivors have become activists for fame and money. Hogg in particular has become a media darling, as well as a target for extreme right-wing groups that have called shooting survivors and their parents “bad actors.”

We see in the documentary why Hogg has been all over the media: He has a hard time saying “no” to interviews when he’s surrounded by reporters, and his protective mother often has to step in and put a limit on the media interviews that he does. His passion and his eloquent speaking skills make it clear why he’s one of the unofficial leaders of this Parkland movement, and what he’s fighting for isn’t just a “phase” or a “fad” for him and other Parkland survivor activists.

“After Parkland” co-directors Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman are directors/producers of ABC’s “Nightline,” so the documentary (which is backed by ABC News) looks more like a TV production than something that was made for movie theaters. And if you’re a news junkie who’s followed what the Parkland survivors and their families and allies have been doing since the shooting, then you probably won’t find out anything new by watching this documentary. But no matter how people feel about gun laws, “After Parkland” is a rallying cry for those who want to do something about preventing more of these tragedies from happening, instead of just hoping that the problem will just go away.

UPDATE: Kino Lorber will release “After Parkland” in New York City and Los Angeles on November 29, 2019. The movie’s release will expand to more cities in 2020.

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