Not Just A Drill

[Content warning: The films and television shows discussed below tackle issues relating to gun violence and mass casualty events. Some do so with graphic audio and/or visual content.]

TOWER (2016)

August 5, 2019

This week began, as so many have, with the queasy combination of feelings that follow the news of mass casualty events. Fear, grief, and anger. The fury of being heartbroken for the dozens of people whose lives were taken by gunmen motivated by white nationalist violence. Heartbroken for their families, and the surviving victims who were targets as well.

As I was thinking about what to discuss in this week’s newsletter, I couldn’t get the distress of these violent acts out of my mind. And working for an organization dedicated to equality and inclusion in the screen industries, I know that I am not alone among those of you who are reading this. Like me, maybe you know what it’s like to wake up, check your phone, and struggle to carry on with the day knowing that—depending on the assortment of circumstances—it could have been you or someone you love.

Perhaps, like me, you often turn to media to help process a range of experiences and feelings, even anguish and horror. After all, what drew me to entertainment in the first place was the desire to be a part of storytelling. Whether by shining a light on communal truths, or by providing a respite from the ‘real’ world, there is value in reflecting the real trauma of these stories on-screen. Here are some recommendations of women-created content that I have appreciated as I’ve attempted to parse and cope with the specter of mass violence:

TOWER (2016)
Produced by Megan Gilbride, Susan P. Thomson; Cinematography by Sarah Wilson
This uniquely-produced documentary, financed on Indiegogo, uses rotoscoped animation to combine archival footage and actors’ reenactments of survivor testimonials. This is an essential investigation into the way that our culture and society have changed in the 50+ years since the 1966 massacre at the University of Texas at Austin.

BoJack Horseman,” season 5 episode 4: “Thoughts and Prayers” (2017)
Directed by Amy Winfrey; Animation director Anne Walker Farrell; Written by Alison Tafel; Executive produced by Blair Fetter, Jane Wiseman
This darkly almost-absurd episode begins with a Hollywood publicist struggling to market a violent film in the aftermath of mass shootings, and goes on to hypothesize about the ramifications of gun ownership on female empowerment.

"BoJack Horseman" season 5 episode "Thoughts and Prayers" (2017)

Written & directed by Julianne Donelle; Produced by Sabrina Stoll; Line Producer Megan Jordan
This short film about the confusing reality of active shooter drills at American schools was selected as part of the Women In Film Production Program, and had its premiere at the L.A. Shorts International Film Festival this year.

NEWTOWN (2016)
Directed by Kim A. Snyder; Produced by Maria Cuomo Cole
This documentary features interviews with the bereaved family members of children and teachers who were slain in the shocking 2012 tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Terrible, Thanks for Asking podcast: episodes “Concentric Circles,” “Their Day,” and “A Way of Seeing the World” (2019)
Hosted by Nora McInerny; Produced by Hannah Meacock Ross
This triptych of interview-based episodes focuses on the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to investigating its toll on the city’s Jewish community, it also addresses the imbalance between the attention paid to victims of gun violence who are predominantly white, versus those in African-American or minority communities where the toll is felt with greater frequency and often, less justice.

Spotlight On:
One Vote At A Time

Founded by Sarah Ullman after the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, this crowdfunded organization of female filmmakers creates campaign videos for non-establishment political candidates who may not otherwise have the means to produce their own. To date they have assisted the campaigns of hundreds of candidates running for positions in state legislatures, who have platforms in favor of gun sense legislation. LEARN MORE

It can be very easy to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of these events. The American Psychological Association offers guidance for managing this distress, including taking some breaks to focus on something you enjoy. Often, it’s a great balm on the spirit to indulge in feel-good media, bingeing movies and TV shows that warm the heart when the mind needs a break from the 24-hour, multi-screen news cycle. Or, you may find it helpful to talk with others about what you’re feeling. We’ll be posting this essay on Facebook—would you join us in this conversation? I know I’d love to hear what WIF members recommend as soothing, spirit-lifting entertainment.

Though the problems of pervasive white supremacy and high-volume gun violence need to be addressed through legislation and culture change, emergency preparedness may alleviate some feelings of powerlessness. In Los Angeles, you can sign up for emergency alerts via NotifyLA and Nixle. Additionally, some organizations whose work you may be interested in supporting are the Texas-based RAICES, the L.A.-based Women Against Gun Violence, Million Hoodies, and March for Our Lives.

Katherine Spada
Communications Manager
Women In Film