AFTER PARKLAND is not a film about victims, but, rather, a heartfelt portrayal of people using their grief and anger as fuel to move forward, heal and, for some, fight to change the world. The 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School left a community in shock, searching for the balance between wanting to be left alone and needing the world to pay attention and take action. These brave Floridians start movements, lobby their politicians, play basketball and search for normalcy in the wake of extreme tragedy. AFI spoke with co-directors Jake Lefferman and Emily Taguchi about their new project.
AFTER PARKLAND plays as part of the Truth and Justice program at AFI DOCS at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC on Thursday, June 20 and at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD on Friday, June 21. Buy tickets to the screening here.
AFI: How did you become involved in telling this story? What inspired you to make this documentary?
As producers for Nightline, we have been on assignment at mass shootings before. Each time, we were left with lingering questions: how do students who have stared down the barrel of a gun return to their classrooms? How do parents, who lost the most precious member of their family so suddenly and violently, find the strength to move forward? How does a community begin to rebuild?
In Parkland, the students and the families vowed from the very early days to never let their stories fade. As we spent time there and built relationships, we witnessed moments of courage and resilience — and it was those moments that inspired us to tell this story.
AFI: How did you find and connect with the subjects in AFTER PARKLAND?
We decided to focus our film primarily on the students and families who experienced the shooting directly – either through being in a classroom that came under attack, or through the loss of a loved one. We initially spoke to more students, but a number of them were not ready to participate in a long-term project based on where they were in their healing process. With those who agreed to participate, we gradually built trusting relationships – meeting with them without cameras present, and always letting them know that we would not film if the moment proved too difficult. We were often visiting Parkland on milestones, which were important but were often reminders of what they lost — so being able to take our time was essential. We also think that it helped to build trust as we were a very small team handling the camera work ourselves, rather than coming in with a bigger crew.
AFI: What was a specific challenge you faced while making the film?
One of our biggest fears was the possibility of re-triggering the trauma the participants went through by asking them to talk about their experience. We worked very closely with the parents of the students, and looked for any signs of hesitation or unusual responses. This was particularly true when filming with Brooke Harrison, who was only 14 at the time of the shooting. We were grateful when her father told us fairly early in the production that he thought we were “getting the poison out.”
AFI: What do you hope audiences walk away with after seeing your film?
We hope that our film gives audiences a glimpse into the depths and universality of the grief and trauma that families experience after a shooting, regardless of where they may be on the political spectrum.
AFI: Why is Washington, DC an essential location to screen your film?
We hope that screening our film in Washington, DC will provide an opportunity for it to be seen by those who are involved in legislative and political efforts to stem gun violence. Each time a headline comes across about another shooting, we hope that audiences there are reminded of the unseen victims — the families and survivors who will be experiencing grief and trauma for many years to come.
AFI: Why are documentary films valuable today?
Documentary films provide a glimpse into perspectives and people outside of our own experiences. The ability to sit with someone in their space — to live and breathe their experience for even just a moment — can encourage empathy, understanding and reflection.
Buy tickets to AFTER PARKLAND here.