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Filmmakers Discuss New Documentary On 'March For Our Lives' Movement

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

February 14, 2018, do you remember where you were and what you were doing? If you were a student or teacher or staff member at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., it is likely you could never forget, because that was the day that a 19-year-old with a semiautomatic rifle gunned down 17 people and wounded 17 others. That day marked one of this country's deadliest school shootings, but it also marked the beginning of March For Our Lives, one of the largest student-led movements in decades.

A new documentary traces the rise and growth of the movement through the eyes of a handful of students who were there at the beginning. It's called "Us Kids." And we're joined now by producer and director Kim Snyder. Kim, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

KIM SNYDER: Thank you.

MARTIN: As well as to the students featured in the film. Would you like to introduce yourselves?

SAM FUENTES: Yeah. Hi, I am Sam Fuentes. I am a mass shooting survivor and a gun violence prevention activist. And I'm also a subject of this documentary.

X GONZALEZ: Hi, I'm X Gonzalez. I'm one of the co-founders of March For Our Lives. I'm a subject of the documentary, currently a college student. You might know me as Emma Gonzalez, but I changed my name to X for gender and personal reasons.

MARTIN: Thanks so much for being with us. I'm going to start with you, Sam and X, because this film raises some important points about the power of speaking out, but also the cost of speaking out. X, could you just take us back to the first moments when you realized you had something you wanted to say about what had happened?

GONZALEZ: Yeah. I just - I knew all of the ins and outs of what was going on politically. I was like, oh, I can see these tactics. We just learned about that in class (laughter). That's [expletive] up. And there was a little rally going on. And the school supervisors and whatever were like, oh, could you and some kids come down and, like, speak at this protest? And we were like, sure. And then that was, like, the We Call BS speech...

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

GONZALEZ: I know this looks like a lot, but these are my AP gov notes.

...That everybody flipped out over that I only wrote in three hours.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

GONZALEZ: They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS.

And then from then on, you know, I eventually made a Twitter and became a person in the national - international consciousness. And it went from there.

MARTIN: Sam, what about you? Do you remember when you decided that you wanted to speak out, that you had something to say?

FUENTES: Oh, jeez. It certainly was not initially that I decided to make a decision of becoming an activist. I, you know, was injured in the shooting. I had a lot of healing to do, was in and out of hospitals and surgeries and physical therapy and all these, you know, not-so-fun things to do when you're 18 years old. And so I was just so astonished and so fascinated by the strength of my peers and seeing them, these people - these punks, essentially - who I went to school with for years. And I guess you always underestimate people that you grow up with, and you never understand, like, when put under extreme pressure, like, anybody can rise to the occasion and do something great.

And so I was just really inspired by that and people like X and this strength that I wanted to see in myself and envisioned - and I thought that one important aspect of the movement that needed to happen was the representation of, you know, survivors and survivorhood and, you know, this idea that these are real people. You know, this is what gun violence looks like.

MARTIN: So, Kim, what about you? This isn't your first film about a school shooting, and I can't believe I'm even saying that. But, you know, you made the 2006 documentary "Newtown" about Sandy Hook. Gosh, one film about something terrible - so terrible might be enough for anybody's lifetime, so what made you want to undertake this film?

SNYDER: I didn't intend to. I was totally happenstantially (ph) developing another project in Tallahassee, the state capital, on the day the shooting happened. And it was only a couple of days later that I was there on the steps of the Capitol, and busloads of people came from their high school demanding change. I just knew there was a different moment. I had been steeped in it, but it's certainly not like I was aiming to do another film - and it isn't a film about a mass shooting. You know, I see it as a film about this historic movement that became inclusive very quickly.

MARTIN: So tell me a bit more about something you just said. You said that you realized at that moment that it was different. Tell me why you saw that it was different. Is it because the students were in the forefront?

SNYDER: Well, what I came out of "Newtown" with was this nagging question that I hadn't been able to tell in that movie, which was of kids in cities across America that are traumatized. And so I saw that this was born. And what I wanted the film to be was sort of exploring the terrain of trauma and rage and frustration. So it didn't surprise me that there was this spark that when X and others lit that match, it was ready to be ignited across the world, really.

MARTIN: One of the things that struck a chord with me and didn't feel so great about was how burned many of the students felt by the media. And I was interested in that. X, you talked about, for example, you know, giving these long interviews and then having it, you know, cut down to just a couple of minutes, which is a thing that happens, so I'm sorry about that. But I kind of got the feeling that you felt that it wasn't just to fit time, that there was a certain image that the people had of young people that they were trying to fit. What's your sense of why those things happened?

GONZALEZ: Yeah. The specific instance where I was talking about having given a five-hour interview and they took, like, two minutes, the reason I'm mostly upset about that is because they took over my entire house and didn't really tell us exactly how long the interview was going to be, kept asking really invasive questions. And it wasn't even, like, political conversation. It was like - I was just confused. And so I was feeling it and cried a little bit on camera, and that was the only part they used. They had a specific narrative that they wanted to publish, and they published it.

MARTIN: Sam, what about you? Did you have similar experiences?

FUENTES: No, it was definitely something that I was very skeptical in the beginning of even being offered the position in this film. I - because I had had so many experiences where people would literally show up at my house uninvited. I have no idea how they would get my address, and they would just be, like, cameras rolling already ready to go and just, like, banging on my door just days after the shooting, you know, just trying to get a clip of me and my injuries.

MARTIN: So, Kim, you know what's your sense of the success of this movement? How do you think about what happened that summer and what you think this group accomplished?

SNYDER: I was always aware that I was watching history, that I caught something in the midst of a revolution. I feel that it's such a bigger story than guns or Parkland. I think these things all weave together, and you can't talk about the gun problem without talking about racial inequity or any number of - and white supremacy and all these things.

So I think I feel most successful that I have their confidence, that they like the film, that they think it speaks to their narrative, and that a lot of young people seem to do a lot of good things. One of the things in the film is depicting how they turned out in record numbers in the midterms and the recent election, historic numbers, and hoping the film can inspire young people to do that again in '22 and beyond.

MARTIN: We should mention that because of technical difficulties and a scheduling conflict, both Sam Fuentes and Kim Snyder left the conversation early. But I continued my discussion with X Gonzalez, and I asked if they think March For Our Lives has made a difference.

GONZALEZ: I personally see it as, like, we are definitely making strides. And there's definitely been positive change made. You know, like, there was a planned mass shooting at one of the biggest colleges in Florida. And because we got the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act passed against Marion Hammer of the NRA's wishes, that shooting was prevented. You know, like, if we've even done one good thing, then I would consider that a success. But we've actually really positively contributed to, like - and by we, I mean March For Our Lives as an organization, even though I'm not really like - I'm taking a break. But, like, we've made a lot of situations better by getting local legislatures actually aware of the problems that exist.

MARTIN: How are things for you now? I mean, it was such an intense period of time. I mean, first of all, nobody should have to go through what you all went through. I mean, that is a point that I think all of you made. Even as you were starting that movement, you know, you made the point that nobody should have to live with this. But having done that and then having gone through everything, how do you feel now? You're taking a break. You're not the only one, too. Other leaders of the group are taking a break. And...

GONZALEZ: Yeah, a lot of the co-founders of March For Our Lives have stepped back and take time to actually be in college and exist on their own for a second because we were such a tight, close-knit community for such a long time, we kind of lost ourselves in the bustle because we just wanted to make the change so bad. And then we realized - we're like, oh, my God, yeah. There's a point in time when you're like, really, really drained, and you need to be alone, or you need to be, like, back in your house and just sit there. And we all kind of took that time.

And I'm doing really good right now. That's like the thing about PTSD is like, when you feel good, you feel guilty. When you feel good, it's good to know that you'll feel bad again. And when you feel bad, you know, it feels good to know that you'll feel good again. Like, I'm properly medicated. I have a really good therapist. I'm with really good people in my life. I have an internship for the summer. I, like, do my laundry on time, and I wash the dishes. And I just finished all my finals. And things are lining up rather well in my brain. And, like, I'm making that a lived reality.

MARTIN: That was X Gonzalez, one of the students featured in the film "Us Kids." The film debuted at Sundance last year and is now streaming on demand and in some theaters. X, thanks so much for talking with us.

GONZALEZ: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: We also heard from the film's director Kim Snyder and Sam Fuentes, one of the activists featured in the documentary.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.