'Newtown' explores the aftermath of tragedy in a community

PARK CITY, Utah -- In approaching a subject as sensitive as the Newtown, Connecticut shootings of December 14, 2012, in which 20 children and 6 educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, director Kim Snyder knew first what she didn't want to do.

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She didn't want to make it a portrait of a murderer. She didn't want to name Adam Lanza. She didn't want to show the surviving children. And she didn't want to "cast" the families she would ultimately use to tell the story.

Instead, Snyder let the story come to her organically over a long period of time through the interfaith community in the town. In her powerful and illuminating film, "Newtown," which premiered Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival, Snyder explores the effects of the events of that day on a community -- through families, teachers, religious leaders, a volunteer EMT, a neighbour, and a sheriff, among others.

"I don't really have an agenda here other than to render some truthful trajectory of what aftermath looks like as a town," Snyder told The Associated Press before the Festival. "That whole first 7 or 8 months, I didn't feel any compulsion to try to get in touch with the families, and then over time I started to learn more holistically about the community and I started a process of trust building."

Snyder had just gotten back from Newtown, where she screened the film for 20 participants for the first time. Some of her subjects accompanied her and the film to the Festival.

"I'm a little wrecked. It was intense," she said.

In addition to developing authentic relationships with many of the townspeople, Snyder also was able to get accounts from those who wanted to talk by setting up a camera in the basement of a church at the service of the one year anniversary of the event.

"In those beginning ones, I would leave the room," Snyder said. "I just said if there's something you feel like saying, please say it."

While "Newtown" isn't explicitly political, it does have an undeniable point of view as you listen to the heartbreaking testimonials, see the lingering effects of the horrors have had on so many people, and watch the families become accidental public advocates.

"I didn't want to spoon feed or force the issue of telling people exactly what they should think and do," Snyder said. "I hope that the film addresses issues of universal loss, grief, and the hope and uplift of human resilience -- what we're capable of in the face of the unthinkable. But I also think that it brings up larger issues. I hope it will open up a conversation -- a civil dialogue around things that I think do need to change."


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