The power of documentaries, in my opinion, is the ability to provide audiences with an honest examination of a topic. Sometimes viewers may be aware of the subject matter being discussed in a documentary, but most of the time viewers are able to learn something new that they never knew before. After Parkland is a documentary about something that all Americans should unfortunately be aware of. This documentary follows the lives of several students and parents that experienced a horrific school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida. 14 students and three staff members were killed, leaving 17 injured and hundreds, if not thousands, traumatized by the event.
I tend to steer away from politics when writing reviews, but I don’t think that keeping children safe is a political issue. The fact that we have to have a documentary detailing yet another school shooting is ludicrous and there has to be something wrong with you if you feel nothing about children or teenagers being shot just for attending school. In that regard, After Parkland is a solid reminder that this is an issue that still needs to be discussed. Outside of it being a reminder of an ongoing issue, After Parkland doesn’t do much to inform audiences about a subject they don’t already know about, and even detracts from its own message at times.
Director: Emily Taguchi, Jake Lefferman
Release Date: April 26, 2019 (Tribeca Film Festival)
The documentary starts with footage from students as they hear the shooter attack and kill innocent civilians. We can see and hear the panic in their eyes and we hear the father of Meadow Pollock, one of the victims, say with seething rage that the directors don’t need to bullshit him with softball questions. His daughter is dead. He can take whatever they throw at him.
With that, After Parkland sets a tone of outrage and demands that action needs to be taken. The scope of the documentary is split between three perspectives. We follow Pollock’s father as he tries to raise awareness for legislation in Florida and Broward County for safer schools, the friends and family of victim Joaquin Oliver as they try to live their lives, and student-turned-activist David Hogg as he appears on various networks to raise awareness for stricter gun legislation.
Right off the bat, there are conflicting messages that the documentary acknowledges but swiftly disregards. Meadow’s father is quite vocal about the issue not being about stricter gun legislation, because that’s an entirely different battle that needs more time to prepare for. The focus, in his mind, should be on trying to ensure the schools are safe places where no child should be at risk of dying. But the documentary frequent jumps between saying that school safety is the most important issue being discussed and that restricting guns is the most important issue. Both topics are fighting against each other for screentime, weakening the overall message.
At first I was disappointed that After Parkland decided to take a micro approach to addressing the tragedy, but the longer the movie went on, the more effective it became. Most of the film followed Oliver’s friends and family move on from the tragedy, starting with the immediate days after the shooting then progressing to the school’s basketball team making it to their tournament finals. After that we see the students of Stoneman Douglas attend their senior prom, then before we know it we’re at their graduation. We see in great detail how the community tackles this horror and slowly moves on from it. They aren’t defined by the shooting. They’re stronger than that, and that message of hope does stand out while simultaneously showing that there’s still plenty of work to be done to ensure that all schools are safe schools.
And yet, this is a documentary that puts emotion over all else. You are expected to emote and relate to these people, without actually understanding more about the Parkland shooting. The documentary’s explanation of the event begins and ends with there was a shooting that killed 17 people and it received national coverage. There’s no elaboration on how it happened, who the killer was, the response from politicians or media outlets — nothing. I learned nothing new about the event than when I went in. I name checked victims on Wikipedia to make sure that I spelled them correctly and the article about the shooting gave me more information in the span of five minutes than After Parkland gave me in 90.
This leads to some pretty glaring omissions from the documentary about the people and activists that emerged from this. David Hogg pops in from time to time, but arguably the face of the activism that sprung from the event, Emma Gonzalez, doesn’t appear. Her speech at the March For Our Lives rally is briefly shown, as well as a blink and you’ll miss it shot of her towards the end of the movie, but that’s all. As someone who knew of her just from media coverage, it seems bizarre that she wasn’t featured in some way. There’s not even a brief interview with her, just archived footage. I’m genuinely curious to find out why she wasn’t featured here, because her absence is fairly noticeable.
I’m not opposed to documentaries that have a human focus or are focused on making audiences feel a feeling. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is an excellent example of a documentary that has a laser focus on hitting you in the heart and motivating you to be a force for change on a personal level. After Parkland comes across as a documentary that tries to do too many things at once. It tries to be a spark for political change, a piece on human perseverance, a look at how people recover from trauma, and a grim reminder that school shootings are still common in American society. However, it doesn’t handle all of these concepts well, making the movie comes across as a jack of all trades, master of none.
Is there a good documentary inside After Parkland? Absolutely. With a few edits and a sharper focus with more information it could have easily been a great documentary. But I’m reviewing the movie that I saw. I can make a wish list on how to improve After Parkland, but that won’t change the fact that After Parkland is a well-intentioned mess of a documentary.