For two years, documentary filmmakers followed former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and their most embarrassing moment was in the kitchen of her home in Tucson, Arizona.
While the cameras were rolling, she and her husband, Senator Mark Kelly, casually opened the freezer. Kelly grabbed a plastic container and found that it contained part of Giffords’ skull, which had to be removed after she was shot.
“It will stay here, next to the empanadas and the sliced mango,” Kelly said.
Giffords’ answer was “Sera, sera”, referring to the song “Que sera, sera” or “What will be, will be”.
The scene from the film symbolizes Giffords’ openness to reflecting on the 2011 filming that changed her life, but not to longing. It was this desire that prompted her to allow cameras into her life for two years — all as the pandemic progressed.
“It was very important for me to move forward and not look back,” Giffords told The Associated Press while in Los Angeles to promote the film. “I hope others are inspired to keep moving forward no matter what.”
From the makers of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Academy Award-nominated RBG documentary, Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is partly an intimate look at Giffords’ recovery from the January 2011 shooting that left six people dead and 13 injured. near the Tucson supermarket. But the film, which opens in theaters on July 15, is also an inside look at how she and Kelly ran the gun control campaign and later the Senate campaign. The film is most timely as gun reform is debated in government, schools and the US Supreme Court.
“It’s just a compelling story about Gabby recovering from an injury that a lot of people just can’t get over,” said Betsy West, co-director. “After meeting Gabby on Zoom, we saw what a great communicator she is. And we had a feeling that we could have a lot of fun, despite the very difficult topic of gun violence.”
At the same time, they wanted to find the right balance in terms of how much time to look back at the shoot.
“Of course we didn’t want to shirk January 8th. Obviously, this event changed her life,” said Julie Cohen, the film’s other director. “But Gabby is ultimately defined by everything she has achieved before and since. We wanted to show this achievement.”
The film is also not complete without a discussion of Jared Lee Lofner, the shooter involved in the Tucson shooting. Interviews with law enforcement, journalists and a video made by Lofner show how he was able to buy a semi-automatic weapon despite a history of mental illness. In 2012, he was sentenced to life in federal prison without parole.
“We didn’t want to stop at the arrow, but we also wanted to explain what happened,” West said. “Gabby and Mark didn’t shy away from attending the sentencing hearing to make a very impassioned announcement of a life sentence. It was a very important part of the film.”
Recent mass shootings, including the deaths of 19 schoolchildren and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, and 10 supermarket shoppers – all black – in Buffalo, New York, have brought gun violence back to the fore. The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a New York law allowing guns to be carried. The case concerns a state law that makes it difficult for people to get permission to carry guns outside the home. The judges said the requirement violated the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms”.
Also on Thursday, the US Senate easily passed a bipartisan gun violence bill. Weeks of negotiations behind closed doors led to a gradual but landmark package in response to the mass shootings. The House of Representatives will vote on Friday.
Like after Uvalde, the documentary explores how the gun control debate came to a head after 26 children and two teachers were shot and killed by a gunman at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. National Rifle Association officials referred to the Giffords and other defenders, including some Newtown parents, as “props”. After spending time with the Giffords and other victims of gun violence, the film’s directors say their voices are central to the discourse.
“To say that somehow Gabby shouldn’t be talking about gun violence because she has experienced violence? It just doesn’t make any sense,” Cohen said.
A key element of the documentary was the videos Kelly filmed with Giffords at a Tucson hospital and rehab facility in Houston. These include then-President Barack Obama, who is interviewed in the film, and Michelle Obama’s visit to the unconscious Giffords. They also include the first few months of speech therapy.
The bullet pierced the left hemisphere of Giffords brain, which is responsible for language abilities, as a result of which she developed aphasia. You see in old videos Gifford sobbing in frustration as she struggles to read and gets stuck on the word chicken.
Giffords said watching these videos may upset her, but she is determined to be optimistic.
“I’m getting better. I’m getting better (better) slowly, but I’m getting better (better) confidently,” Giffords said.
Giffords is the third film directed by West and Cohen about the female icon. Last year, they released the documentary “Julia” about the influence of television presenter and author Julia Child. “RBG” was a critical and commercial hit when it was released four years ago. The filmmakers say that while Giffords and Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg, who died in 2020 at age 87, are very different personalities, they think viewers will see a lot in common. They both have toughness, perseverance, optimism and are at the heart of “feminist love stories”.
Giffords often has to remind people that she still has a voice, even when speaking is not easy, whether it’s gun safety or other issues. She said she genuinely feels the climate is different now, but people have to be patient because change is “slow” and Washington, D.C. is “really slow.”
It plans to refocus on tougher federal background checks through its Gun Owners for Security coalition. The Senate-approved bill would only increase background checks for buyers between the ages of 18 and 20.
If there’s one message she wants viewers to take away from the documentary, it’s “fight, fight, fight everyday,” Giffords said.