Two years on, journey of Florida shooting survivors captured on screen

Two years after a shooting rampage at a school in Parkland, Florida, "the rage, the frustration, the trauma" of the survivors is the focus of a new documentary called "Us Kids" that aims to put gun violence at the heart of this year's US presidential race.   


In this file photo taken on March 24, 2018 a woman hoists a poster featuring Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the February 2018 Florida high school shooting turned activist and advocate for gun control, at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC. (Photo: AFP)

The film looks at the ways in which the massacre of 17 people by a former student at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school affected the lives of those who survived the attack, and follows their first steps towards becoming high-profile anti-gun violence activists.   

Of all the survivors, Emma Gonzalez has become the face of frustration among young people at the lack of political response to endemic gun violence in the United States, which last year suffered a record 417 shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA).  

The teenager, with her distinctive close-cropped hair, caught national attention when she made an impassioned speech at a rally, laying into President Donald Trump and his campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association (NRA).

She called out the constant excuses and prevarications of the political class in tackling gun violence with the memorable put-down, "We call BS!"

"Us Kids" was directed by Kim A. Snyder, who in 2016 made a film about another notorious gun massacre at Newtown, Connecticut, when a 20-year-old with a semi-automatic rifle killed 20 children aged between six and seven years old at Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

By chance, Snyder was in Florida on February 14, 2018, when the Parkland massacre took place.

"I was there in Florida when all of these kids came demanding change at the State Capitol, and I realized that I needed to do this," she told AFP.


"Us Kids" is told from the perspective of the survivors, whose fury, pain and frustration can be seen "transforming... into sheer action and determination and hope," Snyder said.

The Parkland survivors are not "unlike a lot of amazing young people that have been the catalyst for movements. You know, great movements have always been led by young people," the director told AFP.

"There was a nation of traumatized youth that was ready to be activated, and when Emma (Gonzalez) got up and gave that seminal 'We call BS' speech, it was like a match and the gasoline was there. And so it was a nation of kids that were just ready to be mobilized," she said. 

'Public health crisis'

She admits it took time for her to win the trust of the teenage survivors and convince them to allow her to film their steps towards becoming activists.

"They were traumatized. The media, as well-meaning as it was, can also sometimes be an added trauma," she said. "So I waited a long time. I followed them across the country all summer, more like a rock band."  

"You have to really become part of who they are and trusted. I took two years to build that trust."

Snyder hopes that the message of "Us Kids" will be absorbed into this year's election campaign and enter into the presidential debates, calling the number of deaths and injuries from shootings a "public health crisis."

The issue is set to be a divisive battleground among voters as Donald Trump stands as a strident gun rights champion, taking on the Democratic Party, which backs tighter gun control.

Snyder also hopes that the impassioned activism of the younger generation will resonate among older viewers. 

"It's a coming-of-age story, and it viscerally reminds us of who we all were, and that we didn't take no for an answer and that apathy cannot stand," she said.