‘Not going to let the darkness take over’: Director of ‘Newtown’ documentary visits campus, screens film

Morgan Sturm

As director Kim Snyder’s documentary “Newtown” neared its end on Monday night, the audience of over 70 students, faculty and staff were nearly completely silent. For many, the film was an emotional experience.

Before the screening began, however, Film and Media Studies professor Andy Smith introduced Snyder. Smith recalled meeting Snyder a few years ago. He said he was “astonished at her courage” in making the film. Smith noted that “Newtown” premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it was named among the “Best of Sundance” by Entertainment Weekly.

During her opening remarks, Snyder said she set out to begin working on “Newtown” only months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Ct. on Dec. 12, 2014.

“It’s about much more than Newtown. It’s about Texas, Las Vegas, Orlando and the other tragedies,” Snyder said. 

The film, which began with footage of a town parade in Newtown, followed three families of Sandy Hook victims in the aftermath of the tragedy. In the beginning, the film takes the audience through the events of the morning of Dec. 12 through a series of 911 calls.

It then focuses on an interview with Abbey Clements, a Newtown teacher present at the time of the shooting. Sally Cox, one of the Sandy Hook Elementary School nurses, was also interviewed.

“The shooting went on for what seemed like forever,” Cox said in the film.

Daniel Barden, Ben Wheeler and Dylan Hockey, who were introduced in the film, were all victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Dr. William Begg, who was on-call in the emergency room at the time of the shooting, said he had to hold back from telling his staff about the school shooting because many staff members were from Newtown.

“I only let the staff know that we had a couple kids coming in,” Dr. Begg said in the film.

The film also gives a glimpse into some of the advocacy work of parents and those close to the Newtown tragedy, including Sarah Clements, daughter of Abbey Clements. According to the film, Sarah Clements led a 6,000 person march in Washington, D.C. in January 2015. The film shows Mark Barden, father of Daniel, and Francine Hockley, mother of Dylan, advocating for stricter gun laws.

Snyder interviewed a neighbor and longtime friend of the Barden family, who said her family’s relationship with the Bardens changed drastically after the loss of Daniel. The friend recalled the moment in the firehouse adjacent to Sandy Hook when the town’s governor announced that there were 20 child victims.

“When I tell you the room erupted, I will always have that in mind,” the neighbor said with tears in her eyes.

Throughout the film, the strong emphasis on community and togetherness came to the forefront. Father Robert Weiss, or “Father Bob,” the town church’s pastor, appeared several times over the course of the movie.

“We’re not going to let the darkness take over, but the darkness is still there,” Weiss said.

In the question and answer session with Snyder following the film, several students and faculty voiced their appreciation for the film.

One student said the film was “the best documentary he’s ever seen.” Another audience member asked Snyder about how she made the “tough decisions” in regards to editing the footage.

Snyder said she wanted to “collaborate” with the town of Newtown and was always conscious of the town’s well-being. While the families of the victims never asked to see the film footage along the way, Snyder would consult them about particular decisions, she said.

When one audience member asked about the effects that making the film had on Snyder herself, she called the experience a “life-changer.”