Song of Parkland


A chorus line of inspiration.

(2019) Documentary (HBO) Melody Herzfeld, Ally Richard, Alex Wind, Ashley Paseltine, Alex Athanasiou, Jared Block, Sawyer Garrity, Emma Gonzalez, Dylan Redshaw, David Hogg, Heather Hart, Emma Summers, Cameron Casky, Molly Reichard, Kelly Mathesie, Ariel Braunstein. Directed by Amy Schatz

 

I’ll be honest with you; I don’t normally review short films. In fact, this is the first one I’ve ever published on this site. Then again, the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2008 – less than a week from the one-year anniversary of the event as I write this – resonates with me in a way that few events can. For one thing, it happened in Florida where I live. For another, this was in many ways the straw that broke the camel’s back as teens who were tired of this same old story being repeated over and over and over again with “thoughts and prayers” being the only political response that came of any of these massacres.

On that terrible day drama teacher Melody Herzfeld sheltered her 65 drama students in a store room for two hours until police came to escort them out. Only then did the students – and their teacher – discover that 17 of their peers had died in the tragedy and another 17 were injured. And the survivors needed to find a way to cope with that. How can a 14-17 year old find the strength to deal when most adults can’t?

For Herzfeld, the answer was to finish what the kids had started. They had been working on the children’s musical Yo, Vikings and were in rehearsal the day of the shootings. The drama department puts on an annual kid’s play and it is one of the highlights of their season. The show must go on and so it does and we get to watch it unfold but it isn’t without cost. The kids are hurting deep inside and it comes out, sometimes in unexpected ways. Two of the young people write songs about their feelings, helping them to process what they are going through (we get to hear both songs during the course of the film). And yes, the students go under a media microscope as several of them (including some in the drama class) choose to become advocates of gun control and become the faces of change for a generation. Admired by some, demonized by others, these young people say what you will about them at least made an effort to make change for the better although of course that will depend on your definition of “better.”

Schatz relies heavily on talking head interviews with the kids, interspersed with news reports and occasional cell phone footage. This isn’t about the shootings themselves – we don’t see that aspect of it – but about how the kids adjusted to unthinkable trauma. When the students are interacting with each other, goofing around, being themselves – those are the best moments in the film. Even the real heart-tugging moments – the Tony Awards performance of “Seasons of Love” from Rent, for example – is less compelling.

I would have actually liked to have seen a full-length feature made here and spend more time with say, the parents of the drama students, other teachers besides Herzfeld, that sort of thing. We definitely get a very limited perspective and while it is most valid to concentrate on the students themselves, ranging a bit further opinion for perspective would have brought a little more clarity.

I got the sense that this was an act of catharsis, not only for the filmmakers but for the students themselves. I’m sure that in the days that followed the tragedy they became used to describing their feelings and the events as they saw them must have gotten to be old hat but there feels like there was a lot of genuine emotional healing going on here. It’s gratifying to see but also heartbreaking that it was necessary. This is by no means the perfect documentary but it is, in it’s brief 28-minute run time unforgettable.

REASONS TO GO: The students express themselves well through song. The film is powerful, timely and heartbreaking. One gets the sense that it was cathartic for all involved just making this documentary.
REASONS TO STAY: The film is overly reliant on talking head interviews.
FAMILY VALUES: While none of the violence is depicted, the themes of grieving and feeling of insecurity at school may be difficult for impressionable children.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Schatz won an Emmy for her work on the documentary Through a Child’s Eyes: September 11, 2001.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Go
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/8/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Parkland: Inside Building 12
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel

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Pick of the Litter – February 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Alita: Battle Angel

(20th Century Fox) Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali. In the future the world will be divided into those above and those below – the haves and the have-nots. A man from down below finds a robot on the scrapheap and restores her meticulously, giving her the name of Alita. He soon realizes that Alita is something special – the last known remaining Battle Angel, the most advanced weapon ever devised. There are those who would stop at nothing to get control of her – and others who would stop at nothing to see her destroyed – but Alita will not be taken easily.  February 14

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Daughter of Mine

(Strand) Valeria Golino, Alba Rohrwacher, Sara Casu, Udo Kier. Two women fight over the custody of a little girl; the woman who has raised her in a loving environment and her birth mother who has changed her mind and wants her back in her life. This is a powerful drama with no easy answers.  February 1

The Golem

(Epic) Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Brynie Furstenberg, Adi Kvetner. In Jewish mythology, a Golem is a creature created from clay that exists to exact revenge for its creator, but often turns on its maker. This new film is about a woman in the 19th century, a mystical whose village finds itself in the midst of a plague that is devastating the land,l She creates a Golem to help repel foreign invaders but as the old adage goes, the cure is worse than the disease. February 1

Sharkwater Extinction

(Freestyle) Rob Stewart, Will Allen, Brock Cahill, Regi Domingo. It is no secret that sharks are among the most feared creatures on earth but these largely misunderstood animals are being hunted to extinction. A courageous filmmaker tackles the illegal fishing industry, the powerful political and criminal forces behind it and what we must do to save the sharks before it is too late. February 1

Song of Parkland

(HBO) Melody Herzfeld. A year ago, a typical school day at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was interrupted by the sound of gunfire. The drama department, deep in rehearsal for the annual kid’s show the school puts on was evacuated from the building amid chaos. When classes resumed again, the drama instructor Melody Herzfeld knew they had to finish what they started. This documentary shows how the show helped unite and heal a grieving student body and watches as they go from victims to activists making a real impact on the national debate for gun control. February 7

Everybody Knows

(Focus) Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ricardo Darin, Eduard Fernández. Her sister’s wedding is ore than enough reason for Laura to travel from Buenos Aires to Madrid and from thence to the small town she grew up in. However the happy occasion turns nightmarish when unexpected events bring long-buried family secrets out into the open. February 8

Birds of Passage

(The Orchard) Carmiña Martinez, José Acosta, Natalia Reyes, Jhon Narváez. An indigenous family in Central America becomes involved with the marijuana trade in the 70s. At first, their involvement brings money and prestige for them. However, with money comes violence which threatens to destroy the family as well as their culture. This is the latest film from the team that brought you Embrace of the Serpent. February 15

A Tuba to Cuba

(Nom de Guerre) Danny Clinch, T.G. Herrington, Han Soto, Nicelle Herrington. The legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band of New Orleans is in many ways the face of American jazz. In order to better understand who they are, they embark on a journey to discover their own roots. That journey takes them to Cuba where they find that their sound is a bridge between two disparate peoples. February 15

Total Dhamaal

(Fox STAR) Ajay Devgn, Riteish Deshmukh, Arshad Warsi, Anil Kapoor. A group of motorists on a remote road in India come across a dying man who tells them of a buried treasure. It becomes a madcap race through adventure and peril to be the first to claim the fortune in this remake of the classic It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. February 22