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Sundance 2020: Us Kids Review

Us Kids from documentary filmmaker Kim A. Snyder (Newtown, Welcome to Shelbyville) spends a year following the March For Our Lives movement as it snowballs into an avalanche of change.

In 2018, a mass shooting took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen people lost their lives, leaving the school, the town, and much of America traumatized.

Sadly, mass shootings aren’t uncommon events. These horrific acts of violence barely take up a week’s worth of airtime in our 24/7 news cycles. As shocking as they are, mass shootings fade out of the collective consciousness as fast as they show up. But in 2018, something changed.

This time, the gun control debate didn’t end once the media circus in Parkland died down. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students took matters into their own hands. They transformed their anguish into fuel for change. The kids used their social media savvy to launch a gun control protest unlike anything the country has seen. This movement went on to be known as March For Our Lives.

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Snyder follows the Parkland survivors as they campaign around the country to raise awareness and gain support for their cause. Us Kids chronicles the March For Our Lives movement’s inner-workings, including exclusive access to the Parkland students.

Us Kids

After appearing on countless news broadcasts and speaking at hundreds of rallies, many of the teen activists are now celebrities with large social media followings. For better and for worse, these kids went from worrying about getting into college to coping with fame and being idolized by the young and old. Snyder does an excellent job humanizing the students who share their doubts and insecurities. At one point late in the film, Emma Gonzalez, the most iconic of the Parkland students, openly questions whether pursing college is a selfish act, given the influence she currently wields.

Us Kids is a left-leaning doc that works best when it shifts focus to the right-wing’s anti-gun rhetoric. Gun-toting, MAGA hat-wearing conspiracy theorists routinely show up to protest the March For Our Lives movement. The kids’ efforts to penetrate the gun-nuts’ delusional bubbles are fruitless, though commendable. One side is working from a place of logic based on facts. The other side operates from a place of fear and only follows their gut instincts. I don’t have to tell you which side is which – but I will.

This isn’t a case of two equal sides debating each other. The Parkland students preach unity, consideration, and understanding. The “adults” on the right taunt the victimized kids on the evening “news.” One side uses their trauma to shield others from enduring their fate while their opponents claim liberals pay the kids to tell fake stories. How far can a society get when it’s split into warring factions that won’t accept the same set of facts?

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This frustrating tension is what makes Us Kids so fascinating. The March For Our Lives kids understand they are in a battle with malicious, stubborn, and ill-informed adults. Politicians and NRA lobbyists profit off the broken system so they have no incentive to fix it.

The doc offers an up-close look at how these teenagers wrestled control out of the hands of corrupt, ignorant, and pernicious adults in positions of authority. These young activists know they can’t afford to wait around for the other side to have an epiphany and do the right thing.

History rarely, if ever, works that way.

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