In early 2018, the community of Parkland, Fla., was changed forever. After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragically took the lives of 17 individuals, the student survivors were thrust into a life they never expected — coping with their trauma, while becoming historical activists with global notoriety.
Today, those young survivors will continue their fight for young voices to be heard, presenting their documentary, “Us Kids,” at the virtual “Vote With Us” rally, which will bring together some of the biggest names in Hollywood to urge young people and people of color to get out and vote early.
Thus far, more than 50 million people have voted early, breaking previous records. As of Oct. 21, over three million young people, under the age of 30, have voted early or absentee in the 2020 elections.
Parkland anti-gun activists Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg and more will appear at the three-hour livestream event, which will also feature performances by Common, The Chicks, Dua Lipa and more. The young activists will be paired in-conversation with A-listers, including Mark Ruffalo with Gonzales; Chelsea Handler with Hogg; Lisa Bonet with Bria Smith; and Langston Saint with Norman Lear, in a discussion about intergenerational connection.
Ahead of its Oct. 30 theatrical debut, never-before-seen clips from “Us Kids” will be shown throughout the rally. Following the rally, “Us Kids” will be available to stream for free all weekend long on YouTube.
The documentary follows the Parkland survivors as they travel the country in the summer of 2018, launching the March For Our Lives movement and pulling off the largest youth protest in American history. Ever since, the activists have built a youth movement that tackles racial justice, a growing public health crisis and political change.
The rollout was unexpected, but after the doc premiered at Sundance this January, the world changed with the coronavirus pandemic putting a stop to the rest of the festival circuit and then closing movie theaters. The plan was not always to debut the film close to the election, but with the state of the world shaking up the entertainment industry, director Kim A. Snyder says it became clear that making the doc accessible to young viewers was priority.
“COVID-19 imposed a lot,” Snyder recalls of the early months of the pandemic when SXSW was cancelled, impacting the typical path for filmmakers to introduce their films to the industry. “And then there is the backdrop of the world right now,” she adds. “As the months rolled on, I did feel it was really important to have this film be of service to youth, in whatever way that meant.”
Snyder — who was behind the Peabody Award-winning documentary “Newtown” — says she spoke to her film’s subjects about the best way to launch the film, and the kids agreed that the film needed to be “seen and heard at this particular moment in our trajectory.” After speaking to investors in the film, everyone was on board that no matter what, they needed to get the film out to try to get the youth vote.
In the film, the activists are followed as they encourage young voters to get out for the 2018 midterm elections, which occurred only months after the shooting, and ended up having the highest turnout for young individuals. Leading up to the 2020 election, the survivors wanted to exceed the goal they set with the midterms.
This summer, the documentary was also seen at drive-in movie theater screenings across nine different cities, which were strategically picked, in tandem with the March For Our Lives movement, which was behind the drive-in tour.
After the free YouTube debut this weekend, “Us Kids” will be released theatrically and digitally.
“I think things have lined up,” Snyder says of the unexpected turn-of-events with releasing her film. “There are moments in all of our lives where we feel like what’s happening in the world is bigger than our little filmmaking sphere. This feels like that. Why did I make the film in the first place? It was really to stand side-by-side with this youth movement and do whatever we can to support them and their voices. They do deserve and demand change, whatever that looks like.”
Snyder says working on “Us Kids” has been her most collaborative filmmaking process in her career, as she frequently consulted with the students as they were filming, and then afterward to get advice on the rollout. “I’m really excited because I feel like I’m working side-by-side with them. I’m in touch with all of them a lot. David is in touch now every day about strategy,” she says about Hogg.
After all, the young activists are more savvy in social media promotions than anyone else, Snyder jokes. “You call them and they just know what to do,” she says with a laugh. “We hope that this film is of service.”
(The “Vote With Us” rally begins streaming at 3 p.m. ET at www.votewith.us.)