In February of 2018, when a gunman opened fire at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—leaving 17 dead, and another 17 injured—documentarians Jake Lefferman and Emily Taguchi went down to Florida with a set of questions in mind, which would inform their Tribeca doc, After Parkland.
“Emily and I have both been on assignments in mass shooting situations before for ABC, so when we got this assignment to go down to Parkland, that was in the back of our minds, the questions that we had left each of those situations with,” Lefferman told Deadline in Tribeca. “What happens the next day? What does the next week and month look like for a family and for a community?”
Featuring Parkland survivors Victoria Gonzales, Brooke Harrison, Dillon McCooty and Sam Zeif, the documentary depicts the experiences of students who had experienced the unthinkable firsthand, as well as parents who lost their children in the blink of an eye, examining how they coped with grief, trauma and loss, while searching for new meaning in their lives.
In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, many marveled at the students of Stoneman Douglas, who seemed to put their own comfort aside, for the sake of the greater good. In the aftermath of tragedy, many of these young men and women were instantly thrust into the spotlight, assuming the role of activists and outspoken gun control advocates.
For Gonzales, assuming this kind of social responsibility didn’t happen overnight. “At first, I wasn’t very [politically] aware, at that time in my life. I was just going through the motions. I was in a lot of shock, so I kind of ended up participating. And then as time went on, I understood that it was a very important role that I had to take, to give insight to these other people, and inspire them to keep pushing through whatever they’re going through, to really try to step into our shoes and understand this pain, and that it’s not just policies we’re going after,” Gonzales said. “These are people that are really hurting and suffering, and people need to know that, in order to take correct action.”
While the survivors found Lefferman and Taguchi easy to trust, it was important for McCooty to note that in the aftermath of tragedy, it was never comfortable to be on camera, and never will be.“We’re all on TV, but not for reasons we want to be. So, it’s never going to be comfortable for any of us, but we all know that us being on TV, and us [continuing to talk] about it, is going to cause change, and cause people to realize that it’s still happening, and is still affecting people to this day, and is going to keep affecting us until we pass,” the survivor says. “It’s going to be in our minds forever, so we’re going to keep talking about it.”
“None of us want to be here. But we have to be here,” Zeif added. “Grieving came with talking, but we just talked for change. There’s no better objective that we could be devoting our time to.”
Like Gonzalez, Harrison, McCooty and Zeif, the After Parkland directors are hoping to spark awareness and change in the world, having already experienced it viscerally within themselves. “One of our first interviews was with Sam, and it’s a distinct interview [that] I don’t think we will ever be able to forget. He was incredibly articulate in detailing for us what it was like to be on lockdown in that classroom, and then minutes later, realizing that his little brother was two floors up, in a classroom that was under attack,” Taguchi recalled. “At the end of that interview, I remember us looking at each other and just feeling as if the air had been knocked out of our lungs. We really felt at that point inspired to continue following these families, as they put one foot forward after another, in an effort to rebuild.”
For a firsthand look at our conversation with the After Parkland helmers and their documentary subjects, click above.
The Deadline Studio is presented by Hyundai.
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