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Community Learns Lesson In Healing As Greenwich Fest Screens 'Newtown'

"Newtown" Director Kim Snyder, left, and Producer Maria Cuomo-Cole at the Greenwich International Film Festival premiere. Photo Credit: Jeanne Muchnick
Some of the subjects in the "Newtown" documentary talk with the audience. Photo Credit: Jeanne Muchnick
The crowd at Bow Tie Cinemas in Greenwich. Co-Founder Wendy Stapleton is in the middle. Photo Credit: Jeanne Muchnick
Alfonso Diaz, left, of Greenwich, chats with Producer Maria Cuomo-Cole at the "Newtown" premiere. Photo Credit: Jeanne Muchnick

GREENWICH, Conn.-- Christine Guervitz admits she was concerned about watching "Newtown ." The documentary, which focuses on the aftermath of the December 2012 tragedy, had its Connecticut premiere at the Greenwich International Film Festival on Saturday, June 11, playing to a packed audience.

"I thought it would be hard to watch and very emotional," said Guervitz. Instead, though certainly emotional, she found it hopeful. The film follows the lives of three parents who each lost a child in the shooting with home videos of their lives before the tragedy. It also includes commentary from first responders, teachers, neighbors and clergy, some of whom have never spoken on camera before.

"It was very well done and very empathetic," the Trumbull resident said immediately after the screening. "It was nice to see how some of the families are healing. Hopefully this film will help open up conversations about gun violence."

Her thoughts were echoed by other film-goers. "I thought it was very important to see this film because it's a day I'll never forget," said Danbury resident Jane Gill. "I remember all of us shell-shocked that this could happen so close to home."

Giovanna Vernuccio, also of Danbury, said the Newtown families have done so much to advocate for better mental health support and gun restrictions that it's important to honor their efforts. "This is too important a film to miss," she said.

Director Kim Snyder and producer Maria Cuomo-Cole spoke before and after the film and emphasized how meaningful it was to have their first public screening of "Newtown" in Connecticut. They also talked about the need to break through the desensitization of gun violence in the U.S. and to realize all of us are Newtown.

Five of the Newtown subjects interviewed in the film were on hand afterward for a Q&A and spoke about their healing processes and the need for advocacy so this never happens again. "I'm not an activist," said Newtown resident William Berg, M.D., the ER doctor who was on the scene that day, "But after seeing what I saw that day, I said I'm not taking this one lying down."

Snyder said she sees the documentary as much a universal treatise on grief and trauma as it is about the issues of gun violence that underlie it.

"As a general observation, our culture is not always so adept at dealing with loss and grief and the subjects of the film inform us, through their courage in sharing their stories, about how to be present in the midst of great grief," she said.

The movie, she stressed, also speaks to the essence of community and the collective responsibility to respond to unspeakable loss and the desire to bring about change.

"We didn't want to make an advocacy film with a specific agenda," said Snyder. "But we do want it to make people better understand what the fallout of gun violence looks like each time we hear about another of these escalating indents in a very visceral way."

To that point, Snyder and Cuomo-Cole have started a social justice campaign.

"Newtown" will be screened again Sunday, June 12, at 6 p.m. at Bowtie Cinemas in Greenwich with Snyder and Cuomo-Cole in attendance.

The movie is poised to have a theatrical release in September with a national broadcast on PBS’s "Independent Lens" in early 2017.

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