MIFF Review: Kim A. Snyder’s documentary Newtown (USA, 2016) is a marvel

In December of 2014, a lone gunman walked into an Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and shot and killed 20 children and 6 staff members. While most peoples instant response was to condemn the shooter (who killed himself at the scene), many could be forgiven for not instantly considering the parents who lost their sons and daughters. Kim A. Snyder has constructed a chilling documentary in order to shed some light on those most affected by the Sandy Hook Massacre.

Filmed over the course of three years, Snyder’s doco delves into the lives of a number of families – The Bardens, Hockleys and Wheelers – and survivors and emergency services personnel and endeavors to capture some semblance of their grief and struggle following the that tragic day.

Strung together through short interviews and letting us into their homes for candid thoughts, Snyder foregoes any form of narration and allows the victims to weave a devastating narrative. There is a moment where one of the first officers on the scene is interviewed and in an attempt to set the tone of the film, says that “it isn’t important to go into graphic detail about what he saw, people don’t NEED to know that”. It’s a wise move and Newtown delves into such emotional content that it isn’t robbed of anything because of it.

Our families leave everything on the table and wear their hearts on their sleeves throughout. They take us into their children’s rooms as they talk about what kind of kids they were. We’re shown home movie footage which, I can assure you, paints all of this in a much more vivid and raw light. Newtown does a fantastic job of helping us understand and know the children lost at Sandy Hook and as many parents in the documentary aspire to do, allow us to feel as though they’ll never be forgotten.

More than simply a trip down memory lane for the victims, Newtown follows them as they attend support groups and help each other overcome their grief. There is a beautiful scene where the camera lingers on Nicole Hockley as she sits outside of Sandy Hook. She begins confidently and ends her monologue in tears as she remembers her sons nuances. Snyder keeps the camera running and lets people regulate their emotions in a completely uncontrived way.

It’s important too. This year has has seen the worst mass shooting in American history and every day the toll rises. Newtown serves as a very heavy reminder that this can’t stand, not only through deep seated ideologies from the victims but also footage captured as they take their losses and pain to Congress in an attempt to present a very simple, very human point of view.

Newtown is coherent and follows a very dedicated and prevalent line but it loses its way a couple of times. It presents itself as movie about the people who were hit the hardest, eschewing the usual facts and figures based narrative that many documentaries take. You can read that stuff in a paper. This is about how the victims feel. But Snyder gets a little lost at one point and we begin learning more about the shooter until it just fizzles away and gets back on track. It was more a case of ‘either explore it fully or not at all’ and subsequently it just seems shoehorned in.

Despite that solitary gripe, Newtown is a marvel. Snyder has managed to focus in on the people involved with this tragedy, has given them a platform to speak on and wrapped it all up with a universal truth: that people can find strength as long as they have each other.

Most importantly, people need to see Newtown. Because gun control is a top priority, because although they’re not always seen, people hurt long after the shooting has stopped and because Snyder seems to have a massive heart and so clearly cares about the people she asked to take part.

I had a lump in my throat for the entirety of the film, and that means something. That means it affects people. And that’s step one.

Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Newtown is currently playing at the Melbourne International Film Festival, where it was reviewed. Check HERE for showtimes.

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