Emotionally devastating, “Newtown” is most notable for what it doesn’t include. There is scant mention of the killer in this sobering documentary, no reference to odious “truthers”– nothing to distract from the grief of the family members and friends in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting that claimed 26 lives.
Director Kim A. Snyder spent three years on the film, and the time and labor shows in the interviews conducted with parents, neighbors, teachers, police, emergency personnel – a broad swath of those who were touched by the tragedy.
Throughout, the sense of loss – from parents who lost six year olds to the sorrow and guilt of those relieved, arbitrarily, that they didn’t – comes through in a manner that’s almost unbearable.
“I still dread that every day I live I’m one day farther away from my life with Daniel,” says Mark Darden, as video of his seven-year-old son unspools.
“Newtown,” obviously, is about more than just the killing. It also chronicles the town’s subsequent activism after that terrible day in December 2012 – one those involved refer to simply as 12/14 – and Congress’ failure to enact any gun-control measures in response – a decision that feels incomprehensible to the survivors, whose testimony is woven into the film.
Still, to focus on the politics of gun control obscures the central point, which is putting very human faces on what can easily become statistics in an age of instant reporting about such atrocities. There is also, understandably, a wide range of coping mechanisms, and an almost cathartic quality to the interviews, such as the father who speaks about being unable to clean out his child’s drawers.
Destined to air on PBS next year, “Newtown” has already received a limited theatrical run, and on November 2 will be presented in theaters by Fathom Events as part of a live town hall, with a discussion moderated by CNN’s Chris Cuomo. Having watched the movie alone, it’s hard to imagine the impact it will possess in that sort of communal setting.
It’s common, in these situations, to contemplate the impact such stories have on other parents, given the pain of losing a child. But one needn’t be a mother or father to be drawn in by what Snyder has captured in this quiet but powerful film. Just being human will do.