A new documentary chronicles the lives of survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, two years after the attack.
David Hogg, Victoria Gonzalez, Dillon McCooty and more feature in the 90-minute After Parkland, which documents students and parents’ efforts to advocate for gun legislation reform, while dealing with the personal aftermath of the shooting.
Seventeen people and three staff members died in just six minutes after a gunman opened fire on 14 February 2018 at the school in Parkland, Florida.
After Parkland, directed by Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman, never mentions the shooter by name, nor does it show his face, turning viewers’ attention instead to the victims and those left to grieve. It premiered on 12 February with a series of showings across the US.
The film begins with the mass shooting then takes viewers along as students return to Stoneman Douglas to finish the school year, exploring milestones such as prom and graduation while honouring the memory of their classmates. It also documents the rise of the Never Again movement against gun violence, which culminated at the time with the March for Our Lives demonstration on 24 March, 2018.
In a telling sequence, David Hogg, who became one of the most vocal advocates of the student-led movement after the shooting, discussed the toll his activism has taken on him, says he’s been losing weight because the news cycle has kept him so busy he often doesn’t have time to prepare food.
“I’m beyond exhausted at this point,” Hogg, who was 17 years old at the time of the shooting, says. “It’s just something I’ve got to work through and sleep off. But it’s hard doing [that] when you get half a million notifications every day. ...I don’t have time. I’ve been dropping weight from not being able to eat.”
In an earlier sequence, Hogg discusses the anxiety of having to return to school after the attack as such: “If people want to know what it’s like to go back to school every day where something like this occurred: imagine getting in a plane crash, surviving, and getting on the same plane every day, when the one issue that caused it isn’t fixed.”
One profoundly moving passage features Victoria Gonzalez, whose boyfriend Joaquin Oliver died aged 17 in the shooting, going to prom with Dillon McCooty, a close friend of Oliver. Both Gonzalez and McCooty found that attending the event together would be the best way of honouring his memory, with Gonzalez wearing Oliver’s baptism necklace as a tribute.
“I was already planning to go with Joaquin,” Gonzalez says. “That wasn’t on my mind until recently, when I heard all his friends talking about it. We’re going to make it the best time we can, for him.”
Parents also play an important role in the film, where they’re shown developing their own forms of activism. Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow Pollack died in the shooting, is seen speaking from the White House the week after the attack, saying in front of Donald Trump and others: “We’re here because my daughter has no voice. She was murdered last week and she was taken from us – shot nine times on the third floor.
“... My beautiful daughter, I’m never gonna see again. How many schools, how many children have to get shot? It should have been one school shooting and we should have fixed it.”
Oliver’s father, Manuel Oliver – who poignantly tells the camera he prefers to use the present tense to talk about his son – also gets involved. A creative director by trade, he has created the nonprofit Change the Ref, the goal of which is to oppose the influence of the NRA and gun manufacturers.
The father is seen in the documentary spray-painting his son’s portrait onto a poster, adding the words “Vote them out” next to the teenager’s image.
“This is graphic activism,” he says. “No risk, no fear. Coming from him, coming from the victim.”
Later on in the film, the elder Oliver travels to Chicago, Illinois, to paint a wall with an image of his son. Along with his wife, Patricia Oliver, he visits a store, looking to buy spray paint but struggles to do so because the product is banned in the city.
“We’re trying to get laws to prohibit the selling of assault weapons and I’m not able to buy spray paint for it,” the father laments.
After Parkland follows students until the beginning of the next school year, with some of them moving out of Parkland for college. Gonzalez, who is about to begin her senior year, reflects candidly about her grieving process, explaining: “There are times when I still can’t believe that he [Joaquin Oliver] is gone. I’m still fighting it.
“So I have to find a way now to understand that life has to go on and I have to find a way to accept it. There’s no choice. I just have to do it.”
The film concludes with footage of several shootings that occurred after the one in Parkland, in Santa Fe, Texas; Annapolis, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Thousand Oaks, California.