As its title implies, the documentary “After Parkland” was filmed by directors Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman in the days, weeks and months following the horrific mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February 2018. It’s a title that suggests a process of grief, which the movie explores as it circles — with their subjects’ generous permission — a handful of students who somehow survived that wretched day, and a few of the parents who suffered the most unimaginable of losses.
But what’s also hinted at in the title is the question of what we’re all supposed to do about what never should have happened, but which keeps happening with grim frequency. Is there such a thing as a meaningful “after,” this movie asks? After Parkland there were tears, but there was also awakening and activism, and it’s in that observed swirl of self-care and social/political engagement that Taguchi and Lefferman find a sensitive, stirring approach to what has become an all-too-common documentary genre in our violent times: the aftermath film.
Taguchi and Lefferman initially were in Parkland for ABC’s “Nightline,” and they bring a kind of intimate newsmagazine style to their extended film, hanging out in kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms and riding with their subjects in cars to school. They follow them along sidewalks and, invariably, through throngs of people, be it fellow survivors, well-wishers, other media, a heightened police presence or — as they turn their energies toward political action against gun violence and start traveling — fellow marchers and protesters.
At first, in the days after the shooting, the words from students Sam Zief, Brooke Harrison, Dillon McCooty, Victoria Gonzalez and David Hogg about being there — Brooke was in the first attacked classroom; Dillon lost his best friend, 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver, who was Victoria’s boyfriend — have that dazed, grasping matter-of-factness. Their friends were murdered. When the school is opened two weeks later, on the way there Sam’s brother mutters in the front seat, “I’m tired of talking.” You can watch David processing Internet reactions, turning into the activist he would soon be, gobsmacked at the lies already being spread online.
We see stricken parents take separate tacks to an impassioned response. Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter Meadow to a spray of bullets, wants school safety made a front-and-center issue instead of gun control. Joaquin’s graphic artist father, Manuel, however, starts a nonprofit aimed at empowering the young to change any political leadership that won’t curb the gun lobby’s power. The students, meanwhile, stage a national walkout, and Hogg starts the organization March for Our Lives.
The school year rolls on, however, and when we watch Brooke in a mirror putting on mascara, just watching her exhale feels intensely private, a reminder that trauma can feel like active molecules. When prom arrives, Meadow’s dad finds it difficult to fully enjoy his other daughters’ big night, whereas the Oliver household is awash in good spirits — Dillon is escorting Victoria, because Joaquin would have wanted it that way. The vibe is as moving and smile-inducing as it sounds.
Taguchi and Lefferman approach it all less like journalists or vérité documentarians than friendly guests who want to be respectful yet connect to something deeper about pain, mourning and forward movement. When the subjects say goodbye to the off-camera filmmakers on graduation day — a natural closing bookend for their film — and we hear the crew return the pleasantries, it feels appropriate, a sign of the closeness we’ve all felt toward the victims of Parkland, some of whom have sought a continuing conversation with the rest of us about what they’ve gone through. “After Parkland” is that gentle exchange of a movie — listening, being there — and sometimes that’s all an aftermath doc can be and should be.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica