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‘Newtown’: Survivors, Filmmaker Talk ‘Tipping Point’ in Fight Against Gun Violence

'Newtown': Survivors, Filmmaker Talk Gun-Violence 'Tipping Point'
Rob Latour/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Despite the continuous string of mass shootings in the United States, no progress has been made toward enacting stricter federal gun-control laws. But Dr. Bill Begg, an emergency-room physician who was on duty at Danbury Hospital in Newtown, Conn. on the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, sees progress being made.

“The Sandy Hook tragedy was the tipping point in our country, and there absolutely has been a cultural change already,” Begg said Friday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Begg was one of three Newtown residents interviewed for PBS’ Independent Lens documentary “Newtown” to appear at a panel Friday for the film, along with director Kim A. Snyder.

Begg likened gun violence to other public health issues, such as smoking and the AIDS epidemic.

“It took a generation for change to occur,” he said. “The fact that you’re allowing us to even talk about this topic now, it would not have happened before December 2012.” He then cited state-level laws passe in Connecticut in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, in which 20 children and six educators were killed.

Nicole Hockley’s six-year-old son Dylan was one of the students killed. She, like Beggs, has become an advocate for prevention of gun violence since the killings. She talked about the failed effort after the incident to pass new gun-control measures through the U.S. congress, an effort that she and other Newtown parents were a part of.

“It was a very hard lesson to learn, but I learned it well,” she said. “We’ve attacked this issue in a very different way, working on prevention and not just legislation.” But, she said, she’s hopeful regarding eventual political change on a national level. “I’ve met a lot of champions in D.C.”

Snyder said that she wanted the film to rise above partisan bickering over gun violence.

“We really want this film to take this discourse out of the polarized political space,” she said, “to try and address it in a way that isn’t so immediately polarizing, politically.”

Snyder described the film as effort to look at how a community as a whole deals with a traumatic incident.

Abbey Clements, a teacher at Sandy Hook who survived the shooting, said that she and other survivors were suspicious of media that descended on Newtown in the wake of the killings, but that Snyder proved herself to be authentic and trustworthy. She offered a critique of the way that the media handles mass shootings.

“I think one thing that the media does do well is when the media reaches out to survivors of other mass shootings or survivors from the inner cities, who never get to tell the stories,” she said. But, she added, too often the media focuses too much on the shooter, not enough on victims, survivors and witnesses.

Snyder chose not to focus on the killer in her film, even going so far as to not mention his name in it.

“There was a very deliberate choice,” Snyder said. “I knew it wasn’t about the shooter and so it was a very deliberate choice not to name him.”

She added, “The film is about community, it’s about human connections.”

“Newtown” is slated to air on Independent Lens on PBS in 2017.