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Eckerd College’s first public event since pandemic is a powerful documentary about gun violence

Published March 17, 2022
Categories: Community Engagement, Public Events

Movie poster for the award-winning 2020 documentary

The first public event at Eckerd College in two years had a special significance for anyone who was on campus in early February. The March 15 event was a screening of the award-winning 2020 documentary Us Kids, a film that follows the founders of the March For Our Lives movement in the immediate aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 people and injured 17 more on February 14—Valentine’s Day—2018.

Us Kids director and producer Kim A. Snyder introduced the film and took questions afterward from the audience in the Dan and Mary Miller Auditorium. “I made the film for this age,” Snyder said as she scanned the small crowd of mostly young people. “I feel that their voices are underrepresented, and yet they’re the ones who can effect so much change when it comes to gun violence.

“You had a scare here,” she added, “and that makes this even more special.”

Snyder’s niece, Sasha Snyder, is a first-year student at Eckerd. She had seen the film when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and had met some of the March For Our Lives activists. She was on campus last month when police said a campus resident threatened to harm a person off campus and himself. He also threatened an act of violence against the school, according to the St. Petersburg Police Department.

The student had bought a gun the day he made the threats. But because of a three-day waiting period under Florida law, he couldn’t take possession of it. He was arrested and is no longer enrolled at Eckerd.

In the days that followed, Sasha reached out to Eckerd College President Damián J. Fernández, who put her in touch with Marjorie Sanfilippo, Ph.D., associate dean of faculty and professor of psychology at Eckerd. “Margie was very excited to hear about the documentary, and we set something up with my aunt, who lives in New York City,” Sasha says. The screening was sponsored by the Eckerd College Bevan Center for Academic Excellence, where Sanfilippo serves as executive director, and was hosted by Sanfilippo.

“Sasha took the initiative after what happened here,” Snyder says, adding that because of the March For Our Lives movement and others like it, some gun laws in Florida have been changed, including parts pertaining to a waiting period. “Those changes may have saved the lives of my niece and others.”

The film, three years in the making, follows David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin and Samantha Fuentes as they travel around the country pushing for gun control, demanding accountability from politicians, and engaging counterprotesters who carry guns and Don’t Tread On Me flags and have repeatedly threatened Hogg’s life.

Snyder, who directed the Peabody Award–winning documentary Newtown in 2016, showed the March For Our Lives students in their most candid moments trying to console one another and navigate a world suddenly filled with TV cameras and selfie requests. “Before all this, we were normal-ass kids doing normal-ass things,” Fuentes says in the film. “It’s hard to trust anyone these days.”

“We got an R rating because of the f-bombs,” Snyder adds with a grin. “But I wanted to leave them in.”

The film also presents accounts of gun violence from Black high school students across the country who had no connection to Stoneman Douglas, including Bria Smith, a high school senior from Milwaukee who is inspired to leave home and join the core March For Our Lives activists midtour. “What about the kids of color,” she says, “who are being shot and killed every day?”