Newtown: Necessarily Heartbreaking

Photo: Supplied by MIFF

Most documentaries take their audience inside a personality, issue or event, providing details and often recreating aspects of the story. Kim A. Snyder’s documentary, Newtown, is different.

Newtown is a gut-wrenching story that follows the community of Newtown, Connecticut in the aftermath of a mass shooting. In December 2012, 20 children, aged between six and seven, and six staff members were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Snyder’s poignant film combines never-before-seen footage from the day and emotional interviews with community members who share their grief and pain as they continue life after the tragedy, without forgetting those who were killed.

Newtown cleverly focuses on three families – the Barden, Wheeler and Hockley’s – each of whom lost a son in the shooting. As they try and come to terms with their new lives, the audience is given an intimate look at their progress and ongoing pain.

Newtown is emotional right from the beginning. Closely shot interviews with grief-stricken family, friends, neighbours and first responders, nearly four years on, allow the audience to comprehend the true magnitude of the suffering on the entire community. The extent of Snyder’s research – she spent three years researching, learning and immersing herself in Newtown – adds an unprecedented intimacy to a film of this kind.

Snyder also includes home videos from the three families that show the murdered boys at Christmases, family gatherings and in everyday life. One stands out – a home video of a three or four year old Ben Wheeler happily playing at home. As the camera zooms in on his big, brown eyes we are left to wonder whether his killer saw a similar sight in the moments before he shot the six-year-old.

Newtown is inherently pro gun control, however Snyder has not created an all out anti-gun campaign. Instead her focus is on the aftermath of the shooting and its long-term effects. Snyder aims to pierce the desensitisation surrounding gun control discussion and take it away from being a political issue.

Snyder also makes use of silence and natural sound frequently throughout Newtown to emphasise human emotion and suffering. The audience I saw the film with were eerily quiet, making the silences in particular extremely powerful.

Newtown is insightful, poignant and engaging. It is necessary viewing, but it is hard to watch at times. Understandably emotional and incredibly heartbreaking, Newtown will leave you holding your loved ones tight, never wanting to let go.

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