SXSW Film Review – Newtown

SXSW Film Review – Newtown



Does the Newtown, Connecticut ring a bell? It is more likely that you recognize the words Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook Elementary School is located in Newtown, Connecticut and it is where twenty school children and six educators lost their lives to a young man with a gun. This is an event that will certainly remain forever in our minds, if not the exact date (December 14, 2012), the name of the young man, or how many children and adults died that day.

The documentary Newtown by director Kim A. Snyder takes a closer, more personal look at the tragedy of Sandy Hook, examining the day itself and the aftermath of three families who lost a small child that day. Nicole Hockley (mother to Dylan Hockley, age 6), Mark Barden (father of Daniel Barden, age 7), and David Wheeler (father of Ben Wheeler, age 6) are the focus points of the three families, chosen to tell their family’s story.

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This is not an easy documentary to watch. There are no gruesome photos of the aftermath, but it is through this film that one comes to possibly have an inkling of what the reverberating effects of losing a small child to a disturbed young man on a rampage. Yeah, I expected it to be sad. I did not expect to have tears in my eyes ten minutes into the screening. The opening gives you a general overview of what happened that day and just before the opening title, the camera flies above an idyllic neighborhood and message board entries come on the screen. Neighbors are checking in with each other, making sure all are accounted for and okay. The last message is this, “Guys, I am sorry to say our sweet little angel Daniel did not make it out.”  That hits you like a ton of bricks.

While we heard the numbers and saw footage on television, did the majority of us empathize with the families? Did we do anything? Callously, when you are far removed from that situation, it is hard to feel connected. This documentary did make that connection, and possibly three years too late. Both Mark Barden and Nicole Hockley decided to turn their grief into activism and move to get better restrictions on who has access to guns. They thought Sandy Hook would be the tipping point for our country, and it was not. Why? Why wasn’t Columbine the tipping point? Unfortunately, Columbine was just the beginning.

This is not a film solely about advocating for gun control. That is not its purpose, and I think that is what most people will believe given the subject matter. Unfortunately, you cannot tell the story of Sandy Hook and not talk about gun access and background checks. To ignore this issue would be like ignoring someone banging a bell right behind you the entire length of Newtown. How else would this tragedy have been prevented?

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The grief of the parents is still so new and lies just beneath their stoic words. Often it breaks through, especially when explaining about that day or remembering their children. Newtown not only tells the story of the parents, but also the siblings left behind. They too lost someone, and they also lost their parents for a time while they came to terms with what happened, lost in their grief. Additional interviews in Newtown include teachers in Sandy Hook, the custodian, a neighbor who lived near the school, parents of children who survived, neighbors and friends of the families who lost a child, police officer and an EMT who responded to the school on that day, and an ER doctor who treated victims. The EMT, police officer, and doctor interviews are particularly gut-wrenching as they describe what they saw. You do not need photos after they tell of the horrors seen that day.

Newtown is a deeply emotional documentary that people need to see to be reminded of what exactly occurred on that December day. It is a documentary that needs to be seen in this important election year, so I hope that it will receive a wide enough release to have the most impact on those who watch it. You can add Newtown, along with Gleason, to the list of the best documentaries of the year.

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