Hot Docs ’19: “After Parkland” directors talk grief, healing

School shootings have become an all-too present part of life in America since the Columbine High School shooting, which marked its 20th anniversary earlier this month. Last year’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High ...
April 30, 2019

School shootings have become an all-too present part of life in America since the Columbine High School shooting, which marked its 20th anniversary earlier this month.

Last year’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, was only one of the many instances of gun violence in U.S. schools in recent years, but it resonated in unique ways, with the students of Marjory Stoneman becoming symbols of a generation raised on active shooter drills and the legacy of Columbine.

In other ways, it was also much the same as the shootings that came before, with young lives snuffed out and the survivors left to grieve and move on after tragedy.

The days, years and lifetimes that follow such tragedies were the focus of Jake Lefferman and Emily Taguchi’s documentary After Parkland, which follows students and parents impacted by the attack on their school and community.

After Parkland had its world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 26 and will have its international premiere at the 2019 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on Thursday (May 2) at 6 p.m. ET at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, with a second presentation May 4 at 4:15 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1.

The 90-minute film is produced by directors Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman, along with Jeanmarie Condon, Steven Baker, Stephanie Wash and co-producer Meagan Redman. Beth Hoppe serves as executive producer, Eric Johnson as senior producer and Samantha Sergi as associate producer. It was financed by ABC Documentaries.

Realscreen caught up with Taguchi and Lefferman, who first went to Parkland on assignment for ABC’s Nightline, before staying on to make a feature film out of the story.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What drew you both to making After Parkland?

Jake Lefferman: Emily and I have both been on assignments where we have dealt with mass shooting situations — in Orlando, as recently as Pittsburgh — and I think when we go down to those situations, we think about what are the lasting impacts going to be on a community, how does a family get up the next day and deal with this reality that they’ve woken up in, how does a community respond and start to rebuild? And so when we went down on assignment for Parkland in the immediate aftermath, these questions were nagging at us.

Emily Taguchi: The longer you spend with a community getting to know people, you start to hear about the moments that are not in the headlines. When we heard about Joaquin’s [who was killed in the shooting] basketball team going back to play their first game after the shooting, we were drawn to those moments where it was much more intimate and a symbol of them literally taking their first steps forward.

What were some of the challenges working on a production like this and bringing up these difficult topics?

JL: We both were worried about retraumatizing some of the kids. Brooke Harrison was in the first classroom attacked. What she went through was unimaginable. Having to help her fellow students, literally holding down their wounds. Months later her father told us that when she sat down and talked to us, it was like getting the poison out. That made us feel a little better, like what we were doing was hopefully helpful. I think that was one of the challenges.

ET: I think that was the major challenge.

Emily, I understand you come at this not just as a filmmaker, but also as a mother, can you tell me a little bit about that?

ET: I actually remember when we were down in Florida filming, and my son at the time was in first grade, and he was in an active shooter drill, and there was just something so jarring about that.

Some of the hardest interviews were with the parents that had lost their children, because this really will define the rest of their lives, I believe, and the question of how do you make meaning out of the senseless and how do you fill a void after the most precious thing in your life has been taken from you I think is most poignant with the parents.

There have been political discussions born out of this —it seems out of Parkland specifically. I’m curious what the role of a film chronicling all of that is in the context of the concrete policy discussions that are happening.

JL: We didn’t set out to make an advocacy film or a political film. Actually the two fathers that we have are on very different sides of the political spectrum and think about dealing with gun control in a very different way. What we hoped to show was the lasting human impact after trauma like this, and what a family and a community would go through, but we do hope that a conversation continues, that this sparks dialogues on all sides. The pain that both fathers go through is the same pain, and I do think that on either side of the gun debate, you can see this film and at least get a little insight into what they went through.

You’ve both covered active shooter situations as journalists. Can you tell me about making that jump from covering a short-term story to making a feature doc?

ET: The longer we stayed and the more times we visited with families, we started seeing more of these poignant, important moments of healing, and it really happened in an organic way. You build these relationships and they let you in and they start to trust you, and you bear the responsibility of sharing their story with the world, and you’re filming and you start to really see the journey of how a family starts to rebuild and how a community starts to rebuild, so there was never a line where one turned into the other. It was a much more organic process.

Hot Docs will be the first screening outside the U.S. Can you tell me about sharing what is in a lot of ways a very American story with international audiences?

ET: I think that there are many things about the film that are very universal, outside of gun violence. When you lose someone suddenly, the grief and the healing is something that is much more widely relatable.

JL: Loss is universal, and something that I think audiences outside the U.S. can understand and relate to.

  • After Parkland has its international premiere at Hot Docs in the Special Presentations category on Thursday, May 2 at 6 p.m. ET at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. Visit the festival’s website for complete screening info.
About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.