“This journey began four years ago right here at Sundance,” director Kim A. Snyder said as she took the stage to introduce her latest project, Us Kids. The documentary follows the Parkland, Florida, high school students who transformed their rage and grief over losing 17 classmates in a mass shooting into a worldwide movement to end gun violence.
Back in 2016, Snyder was in Park City with Newtown, which followed the aftermath of the horrific Sandy Hook elementary school massacre. Things have changed since then, Snyder noted. The day of the Sandy Hook shooting is “a day when a lot of people remember where they were. Now when there’s shootings, no one remembers one from the other.”
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After watching their fellow classmates die horrific deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a group of students decided enough was enough. Their movement to enact sweeping gun control began in a Parkland living room and quickly became something much larger. Young activists like Emma González and David Hogg became household names, and as the group toured the country in the summer of 2018, they began to see massive results.
Snyder couldn’t have foreseen all of that when she arrived in Parkland only a few days after the shooting. “I wasn’t done with thinking about all of the youth across the country who are traumatized, and it’s bad enough that an average of nine kids a day die, but it’s all these survivors [who have seen things they] never should have seen,” she noted.
As she described it, Newtown had been about collective grief: “It was supposed to just punch you in the gut and make you cry and make you realize that [the Sandy Hook shooting] was just the most shameful thing that happened.” But with Us Kids, she saw something else happening in the hearts and minds of her Gen Z subjects, who had tired of the “thoughts and prayers” being offered by politicians and voters in lieu of actual policy reform.
“As you’ll notice, there are hardly any adults in the frame in this movie,” Snyder said during a Q&A after the screening. “The idea was to capture rage—completely understandable—and its transformation into hope. These guys have given me hope every day I’ve been along with them.”
“I feel so privileged,” Snyder continued, “because so many of my adult friends are hand-wringing about feeling demoralized in this country, and every time I’m around their energy, I think that I can get up and do that too.”