films that make a difference
Photographed by Yolie Moreno
Over the course of a year, the programme follows families of victims, and survivors present at the school during the shooting. Some are taking the lead in community healing, while others advocate for a change in gun laws; all are working to heal and move on from that traumatic event. In their journey, some venture out of their ‘safe’ suburban community with new eyes; engaging with black urban America, with youth who are coming together from all walks of life to make change, with gun proponents at a gun convention, with prisoners incarcerated for violent crimes.
Part of the award-winning BBC2 series, This World.
Scarlett is the mother of the 6-year-old victim, Jesse. A brave little boy who used to romp around in army hat and boots, Jesse stared down Adam Lanza, and instead of saving himself ordered a room full of first-graders to “run”. They did, and Jesse was slaughtered alongside his teacher Ms Soto. In the weeks following the shooting, Scarlett like many Sandy Hook parents collapsed. But there came a moment when she turned a corner, and realized that she was not willing – for herself or for the 14-year-old son she is raising alone – to give in to anger and grief. Her deeply personal journey of recovery began, and out of the journals she kept in the months after Jesse’s death, Scarlett published a book about her experience. For Scarlett, it is definitively not guns that are the problem or gun control that is the answer, guns are simply a symptom of a much deeper problem. She looks for opportunities to speak to groups wherever she can – to youth, to inmates with a history with violent crimes. Sitting in a circle of convicted felons, whose tattoos bear witness to the fact that they have “genuine street credentials” she says “It's a choice to forgive… It's a choice, and then it’s a process.”
Scarlett’s son JT is still a typical 14-year-old growing up in affluent small-town Newtown CT, interested in playing video games, and hanging out with friends. But in the wake of the shooting, the walls of his world at first collapsed, and then dramatically expanded. After rejecting help from counselors who he felt had no authentic qualifications to understand his pain, JT made contact with Rwandanans who had survived genocide, for the first time he found someone he felt he could relate to. Hearing everything they’d been through put his own loss in perspective, and JT began raising money to send Rwandans to college, as part of his own journey to have something good come out of senseless loss.
Barbara was only at the school by chance, walking up to the front door just as Adam Lanza opened fire. Instinctively she fled, taking shelter behind a car. She has been haunted by guilt ever since that she put her own survival ahead of her son, Daniel. And even now, as she reassures her twins, Brian and Stevie that they are safe, and a bad man won't come to Sandy Hook Elementary again, Barbara knows there are no such guarantees.
Gilles’ daughter Lauren was a teacher at the school and was also killed protecting the children in her classroom. Gilles has taken a stand against guns but at the same time wants to understand America’s fixation with them. We follow him and his sons and as they try to make sense of Lauren’s death. His journey takes us to Washington DC, and to the annual NRA convention in Indianapolis, where Gilles engages with NRA supporters to try to comprehend their perspective.