Monday, February 4, 2019

Slamdance with Arielle: Behind the Bullet

It’s my pleasure to introduce Arielle, my wife and an eager new contributor who is covering the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City this year, along with a few Sundance selections.

Behind the Bullet
Directed by Heidi Yewman
Documentary Features

“Behind the Bullet” offers a new perspective in the conversation about shootings and gun violence, striving to look at the issue from the perspective of the shooter. When I first learned what the film was about, I was shocked, assuming its aim was to offer compassion and empathy for a mass shooting perpetrator. However, after watching the film, it became clear that the purpose of the film was to understand the impact that a shooting – whether accidental or intentional – has on the shooter, and how the incident affects their lives going forward; mass shootings were not even addressed.

The film follows Taylor, Will, Kevin, and Christen, who, aside from the fact that their lives were all drastically changed by pulling the trigger, had very few experiences that connected their lives or stories. Through discussions of protection, murder, suicide, and accident, this film allows the audience to open their minds and hearts to the experiences of other human beings and the tragic events they endure. The film’s director, ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Heidi Yewman, graduated from Columbine High School 13 years before the mass shooting there which claimed the life of her basketball coach. At his funeral, “something snapped” and she knew she had to get involved in the fight for gun control. After writing a book about 19 people who were affected by gun violence, she felt like she and others needed to get out of this discourse pattern and away from the political allegiances on the issue. She wanted to bring something new to the conversation that had not been explored in great detail – the perspective of the shooter. It took about three years to film, in large part because Yewman and her crew needed to establish trust with each of the victims in order to ensure they would not be portrayed as evildoers.

After seeing the film, I questioned whether the film could offer glorification for the shooters, the act, or the event’s aftermath, allowing audiences to see that people do move on from the trauma of firing a gun, though their lives may be forever changed. But Yewman’s response opened my eyes and my heart to a level of empathy I had not imagined I would feel for the shooters when she asserted that there are no support groups for these people. There are resources available to individuals who lose a loved one because of gun violence, but there are few, if any, resources allocated to helping the shooters survive after such a life-changing event, likely because the impression we have as a society is that their action was intentional and morally wrong, and we do not need to help them live through it. Or perhaps we do not even think about them; when we speak of survivors, we mean only the victims on the other side of the gun.

Still, I do feel uncomfortable with some of the ways in which the shooters have continued to live their lives. For example, the subjects did not discuss therapy, which I believe should be crucial in coping with their experiences. For some of them, despite the trauma of the shooting, they continue to handle guns and engage in risky behavior. For Taylor in particular, I would have imagined that his parents would have forbidden him from playing with guns or fireworks after the incident he had as a child, and yet, his father expressed pride that he taught his son gun safety. I wonder if they agree with one of his friends that it would be God’s will if he were to get injured or killed, and if so, would faith be enough to carry them through another tragic loss?

The film is definitely a necessary part of the conversation on gun violence that we’re not talking about, and it’s worth seeing and opening our minds to the issue. Try to go in without judgment or bias, and be open to the experiences the film will share with you. It may or may not change your perspective, but it’s certainly worth opening the conversation.


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