ARIZONA NEWS

Giffords documentary comes as gun debates stay center stage

Jun 26, 2022, 5:45 AM

Gabby Giffords, center, the subject of the documentary film "Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down," poses...

Gabby Giffords, center, the subject of the documentary film "Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down," poses with the film's co-directors Julie Cohen, left, and Betsy West, Tuesday, June 21, 2022, at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

In the two years documentary filmmakers shadowed former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the most jarring moment for them was in the kitchen of her Tucson, Arizona, home.

As cameras were rolling, she and her husband, Sen. Mark Kelly, nonchalantly opened the freezer. Kelly grabbed a plastic container and revealed it holds the piece of Giffords’ skull that had to be removed after she was shot.

“This stays in here next to the empanadas and the sliced mango,” Kelly said.

Giffords’ response was “Será, será,” referencing the song “Que sera, sera” or “What will be, will be.”

The scene from the film is emblematic of Giffords’ openness to reflect on but not languish in the 2011 shooting that changed her life. That desire is what led her to allow cameras into her life for two years — all as a pandemic was progressing.

“For me it has been really important to move ahead, to 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 filmmakers behind Academy Award-nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary “RBG,” the film “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down” is partly an intimate look at Giffords’ recovery after the January 2011 shooting that left six people dead and 13 others wounded outside a Tucson supermarket. But the movie, which arrives in theaters July 15, is also an insider view of how she and Kelly navigated gun control campaigns and later a Senate campaign. The movie could not be any timelier with gun reform being debated in government, schools and the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s just a fascinating story about how Gabby came back from an injury that so many people just don’t even survive,” said Betsy West, a co-director. “After meeting Gabby on Zoom, we saw just what a great communicator she is. And we had a sense that we might have a lot of fun despite the very difficult subject of gun violence.”

At the same time, they wanted to strike the right balance of how much to look back at the shooting.

“We certainly didn’t want to shy away from January 8. Obviously, that’s something that changed her life,” said Julie Cohen, the film’s other director. “But Gabby is defined ultimately by everything that she’s achieved before and after that. We wanted it to show that achievement.”

The film also doesn’t avoid discussing Jared Lee Loughner, the gunman in the Tucson shooting. Interviews with law enforcement, journalists and a video made by Loughner lay out how he was able to buy a semiautomatic weapon despite a history of mental illness. He was sentenced in 2012 to life in federal prison without parole.

“We did not want to dwell on the shooter, but we also wanted to explain what had happened,” West said. “Gabby and Mark did not shy away from going to the sentencing hearing to make a very impassioned plea for life imprisonment. That 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 put gun violence back at the forefront. The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York gun permitting law. The case involves a state law that makes it difficult for people to get a permit to carry a gun outside the home. The justices said that requirement violates the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.”

The House on Friday sent President Joe Biden the most wide-ranging gun violence bill Congress has passed in decades. It came a day after the U.S. Senate easily passed it. It took weeks of closed-door talks to lead to an incremental but landmark package in response to mass shootings.

Much like after Uvalde, the documentary recaps how gun control debates reached a fever pitch after 20 first graders and six educators were shot to death by a gunman at a Newtown, Connecticut, school. Giffords and other advocates, including some Newtown parents, were called “props” by National Rifle Association officials. Having spent time with Giffords and others impacted by gun violence, the film’s directors say their voices are central to the discourse.

“To say that somehow Gabby shouldn’t be speaking about gun violence because she’s experienced violence? It just doesn’t make any sense,” Cohen said.

A crucial element of the documentary came from videos Kelly had of Giffords in the Tucson hospital and at a rehab facility in Houston. These included then-President Barack Obama — who is interviewed in the film — and Michelle Obama’s visit to an unconscious Giffords’ bedside. They also include the first few months of speech therapy.

The bullet penetrated the left hemisphere of Giffords’ brain that services language ability, causing her to suffer from aphasia. You see in old videos Giffords sob out of frustration as she struggles to read and get stuck on saying “chicken.”

Giffords said watching those videos can make her sad, but she is determined to be upbeat.

“I’m getting better. I’m getting (better) slowly but I’m getting (better) surely,” Giffords said.

Giffords is the third movie West and Cohen have produced on a female icon. Last year, they released “Julia,” a documentary on the influence of TV chef and author Julia Child. “RBG” was a critical and commercial hit when it came out four years ago. The filmmakers say 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 of similarities. They both have toughness, persistence, optimism and are at the heart of “feminist love stories.”

Giffords often has to remind people that she still has a voice even if speaking doesn’t come easily — whether it’s on 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.”

She plans to refocus on making tougher federal background checks a reality through her Gun Owners for Safety coalition. The bill the Senate approved would only strengthen background checks for buyers age 18 to 20.

If there’s one message she wants viewers to take from the documentary, it’s “fight, fight, fight every day,” Giffords said.

___

This story has been updated to correct the number of students and educators killed in Newtown, Connecticut.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Jamarr Dwayne Young, the suspect in fatal hit-and-run in Phoenix, in his May 16, 2024 Maricopa Coun...

Kevin Stone

Suspect indicted for allegedly killing bicyclist in hit-and-run as he fled police in Phoenix

A domestic violence suspect who allegedly killed a bicyclist in a hit-and-run collision as he fled police in Phoenix last month has been formally charged with multiple felonies.

29 minutes ago

Seniors in Sun City invited to dance the night away at prom event...

Serena O'Sullivan

Sun City senior center to host prom to fight loneliness, keep older locals healthy

Loneliness can be deadly. That's why Banner Health is inviting seniors in Sun City to join its first prom event for people over 60.

1 hour ago

A house is blackened after a fire involving two homemade electric vehicles in Phoenix on June 18, 2...

KTAR.com

2 homemade electric vehicles catch fire inside garage at Phoenix home

Firefighters doused two homemade electric vehicles that were on fire in the garage of a Phoenix home on Tuesday morning.

2 hours ago

Stations are set up at an otherwise empty Maricopa County vote center. Maricopa County will operate...

Kevin Stone

Maricopa County reveals more than 220 vote center locations for July 30 primary election

Maricopa County revealed more than 220 vote center locations for the July 30 primary election. Here's how to find one near you.

2 hours ago

Warning label on social media? Arizona experts respond to idea...

Serena O'Sullivan

How could a social media warning label impact Arizona children and teens?

The Surgeon General of the U.S. said on Monday he wants a warning label on social media apps because they hurt young people's mental health.

4 hours ago

Two men are seen with stand-up paddle boards at Tempe Town Lake in this file photo. A search was la...

KTAR.com

Body found during recovery operation at Tempe Town Lake

Dive teams on Tuesday morning reportedly recovered the body of a person who apparently drowned at Tempe Town Lake a day earlier.

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Giffords documentary comes as gun debates stay center stage