How ‘After Parkland’ Directors Managed to Ask ‘Difficult Questions’ of Shooting Survivors

“What does life mean for you now when the person that you’ve lived for is gone,” co-director Emily Taguchi says

After Parkland Emily Taguchi Jake Lefferman
Ted Soqui

Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman were already well versed in covering mass shootings around the country by the time they made it to Parkland, Florida. But in talking with the students and the families who had lived through the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting, they could tell the members of this community were ready to speak out about something more.

Taguchi and Lefferman are both producers on ABC’s “Nightline,” but for their documentary “After Parkland,” they go beyond the breaking news heartbreak and got intimate access to families at the center of the tragedy who were still there long after the other news crews had left.

“We’ve gone to these communities in those awful moments and maybe felt some guilt, as many in the media do, that you descend on a community, and you’re there, and then the story moves on, and the nation sort of forgets. But for that community, this lasts forever,” director Lefferman told TheWrap following a screening of the film Thursday at the Laemmle Monica Film Center. “We felt like it was different and there was something that was there that would keep us there longer. And we saw the opening to ask some of those really difficult questions that we’ve wondered covering other mass violence situations.”

Taguchi and Lefferman realized not long after the events of the 2018 Valentine’s Day shooting that there could be a full documentary film to be told. Their film “After Parkland” profiles survivors like David Hogg and Samuel Zeif, as well as the parents of victims like Andrew Pollack and Manuel Oliver, throughout the remainder of the Stoneman Douglas school year as they fight for change and find a way to carry on.

In particular, Taguchi and Lefferman were there with Hogg on the day he and his classmates returned to school just two weeks after the shooting. They wanted to get a glimpse of what that “surreal morning” looked like for parents and students alike.

“Some of the most difficult interviews were with parents. There is this sense, whether or not it’s true, but some of the students who have their futures ahead of them, you hope they will be able to forge their own future and an identity that’s outside of the shooting,” Taguchi said. “But when you lose a child in this way that’s so senseless and so violent and so sudden, it’s a hole in your stomach. I don’t know how you fill that again. That is something that has haunted me always, and it still haunts me.”

As a parent of two kids and Taguchi said it was hard not to see herself in the shoes of Manuel and Patricia Oliver, Andrew Pollack, finding the courage to get up that next day. “What does life mean for you now when the person that you’ve lived for is gone? What do you make of that life that meant so much to you and now that it’s gone, how do you honor their legacy?” she said. “I think those are some of the really hard questions that we really try to approach and shed light on.”

Taguchi and Lefferman prioritize the stories of people above politics in their documentary, stripping away many of the statistics and talking points that have dominated news coverage for the last few years in order to get at bigger stories of how individuals have hoped to make change on the ground level.

One story they knew might never make it to segment on “Nightline” but was powerful all the same was a scene in which the basketball team of one of the victim’s, Joaquin Oliver, returns to the court and pays tribute to their fallen teammate. Taguchi and Lefferman were there as Oliver’s father Manuel released a bouquet of balloons into the night sky over center court.

“There was an absolute refusal on the part of the students and the families to let this story fade. There was an insistence on making sure that people were talking about what happened and what the issues were, and there was an opening to develop a relationship with the families,” Taguchi said. “We felt, well that might never make a segment, but we think this has deeper meaning. It was an accumulation of those moments that felt very special and important.”

“After Parkland” made its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this April and opened in New York and Los Angeles late last month before it gets a wider theatrical release from Kino Lorber early next year. But of course in that time, there have been dozens of other mass shootings all across the country, and “After Parkland” ends with a montage of news footage of these tragedies.

Both Taguchi and Lefferman hope that their film can help make a difference in the conversation on gun violence and that Americans can find common ground in identifying solutions.

“We get these alerts on our phone, and we can’t become numb to them because it seems like it keeps happening and happening,” Lefferman said. “Our hope from this film is that you’ve gotten a glimpse of what life looks like after something like this, so every time you get that alert, like we’re once again going through something like this, is how deeply it can impact a community.”

“After Parkland” is in select theaters now.