We Are All Newtown

It’s exciting to experience celebrity driven SXSW events. But during the more than two decades I’ve covered the festival, I’ve often found the most memorable and meaningful moments are not the high profile ones…they’re the ones that touch your heart. 

Last week was one of those “moments” that will stick with me for a lifetime. I had the honor of leading a panel following the screening of  “Newtown” by Director, Kim Snyder.

This is a difficult documentary to watch. We all remember that terrible day, December 14, 2012, when a troubled young man opened fire on first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. 20 children and 6 educators were killed. This film follows the families of the victims and the lingering impact on them, the teachers, emergency workers and the entire community. While heartache is front and center, so is hope. 

Mark Barden’s son, Daniel, was one of the first graders gunned down in Newtown. When the panel members met for dinner, prior to the screening, Mark and I started chatting. He’s an accomplished guitar player and we discovered we had several common friends in the music business. He talked about playing Austin’s Saxon Pub in the 1990’s. For a little while, it felt as if I was just sharing a meal and music stories with a new friend.

As we all watched the film together at the screening, the emotions overwhelmed me. It’s one thing to view a gripping piece of work on your computer in the comfort of your home, and quite another seeing it on a big screen in the theater, sitting in front of a father whose heart will be forever broken. When the film ended, the entire audience was silent as everyone in the auditorium soaked in the collective trauma and grief of “Newtown”. 

After the tragedy at Sandy Hook, many people, including President Obama, pushed for tougher laws dealing with guns. Stricter measures passed in Connecticut but not on a national level.

But Mark Barden still has hope. It would have been much easier for this loving husband and father to grieve the loss of his youngest child in private. Instead, he’s touring the country with this compelling documentary. He’s on a mission to help ensure no other parent endures the senseless loss of a child to gun violence. 

So as you trek from venue to venue, searching for the ultimate SXSW experience, don’t forget to wander off the beaten path, you may just make a discovery that leaves an indelible mark on your heart.

Newtown premieres on Independent Lens Monday, April 3, 2017 at 8pm on KLRU-TV