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‘RBG’ Filmmakers Unveil Documentary ‘Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down,’ “Triumphant” Story Of Congresswoman Who Survived Shooting — SXSW

L-R Julie Cohen, Gabby Giffords, Betsy West

Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona was a rising star in the Democratic Party when she was she was shot during a meeting with constituents near Tucson in 2011. Six people were killed in the attack and Giffords barely survived a severe injury to her brain.

Giffords’ recovery and return to activism are the subject of the SXSW documentary Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down, from filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West, directors of RBG and Julia. The title speaks volumes.

Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down isn’t just the name of our film and the name of a Tom Petty song, which we would be happy to sing for you at any point,” Cohen said as she, West and Giffords stopped by Deadline’s SXSW Studio. “It’s also a very apt description of a woman who, no matter what comes her way, will not and does not back down.”

“We had so much fun, I just have to say, making this film,” West commented. “Documentaries are hard — and I won’t say we didn’t have some hard moments in making this — but boy, we had a lot of fun. Gabby knows how to communicate, and she’s become an extraordinary activist for gun safety.”

The documentary shows Giffords undergoing physical and speech therapy from the earliest days after her injury, much of that footage shot by her husband, Mark Kelly, the former astronaut and current U.S. Senator from Arizona. She has become an activist bringing attention to aphasia, a condition that can result from a stroke or brain injury that impairs the ability to speak and process language. Giffords has lost none of her capacity to sing and derive pleasure in music, which brings a joyousness to many scenes in the film.

“That was our one shock making the documentary was how many pop songs Gabby knows and sings all the time. And so every time she opened her mouth it was sort of like ka-ching!” West said. “We think people are going to come away with a portrait of an extraordinary person who has really persisted in the face of a really tragic event and has turned that event into something pretty triumphant now.”

Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is a production of CNN Films and TIME Studios.

Watch the conversation above to see Giffords, Cohen and West burst into a musical number, with echoes of John Denver.

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