As the second anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting approaches, and as the United States heads into a critical election season, Kim A. Snyder’s “Us Kids” made its debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
The film screened at Salt Lake Community College’s Grand Theatre on Jan. 26. “Us Kids” played in conjunction with a panel comprising Snyder and student activists, including Emma Gonzales and Samantha Fuentes.
The massacre occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day 2018, and the film picks up mere days after as students begin to mobilize their efforts into changing the nation’s gun laws.
Throughout the film, Snyder leaves the narrative with the kids, where it belongs. While following an 18-month journey of these young activists trying to make change, viewers also see the result of unattended mental health issues.
Gonzales and fellow student David Hogg quickly become the most prominent faces of this movement, but it is the quieter players like Fuentes, Cameron Kasky, and Alex Dworet that give this film its poignancy.
Fuentes is injured with bullet wounds and shrapnel during the attack. She is left to watch her friend, Nicholas Dworet, die, with his brother Alex just across the hall.
A few weeks later, Fuentes finds herself on stage at the March for Our Lives rally in front of several hundred thousand people. Midway through her speech, Fuentes vomits. As heartbreaking as the occurrence is, her reflection of the event is even more so. On that stage, Fuentes felt like a sitting target.
Resiliently, Fuentes quips, “I just threw up on international television and it feels great!”
Throughout the film, Fuentes and the other survivors are left to wade through survivor’s guilt, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety, all in front of a global audience.
“Us Kids” reminds us how quickly the nation glazes over the human component — that these are children who just went through unimaginable trauma.
The Road to Change tour attracts gun-toting protesters, some of whom followed the students to their hotels. The survivors are called crisis actors and puppets, and receive death threats.
The activists never shy away, confronting their protesters face to face in hopes to start a dialogue. In one instance, Kasky confronts a protester who calls him a puppet.
“The puzzle piece you are missing is that I put me in the media,” Kasky says. “I went out there where I knew the cameras were, and I stood in front of them and said, ‘You know what? Let me tell you what happened.’ Because you know what? The worst thing that could happen, happened. I don’t know if you ever read comic books, but if you look at the alternative universes, we are in the worst one. I could be at summer camp right now; the thing is, people are dead.”
“Us Kids” documents the substantial role activism can play in reshaping the political landscape by creating a surge in the youth vote, the passing of new legislation and federal funding into research of gun violence, all while bearing the weight of their grief.
Society has failed them. Society has allowed them to be the change with little regard to their mental health.
This point gets driven home after the film during the brief panel discussion, which included the director as well as survivors and their parents. Gonzales tells the audience that the highest number of gun deaths in Utah is suicide.
“It’s easier to get a gun than a therapist,” states Gonzales.
Fuentes follows this remark, “Parkland isn’t the story of America.”
“Us Kids” premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition and is currently seeking U.S. distribution.