Whenever filmmaking team of Betsy West and Julie Cohen are slated to release a new documentary, I get excited. They have a way of being sensitive and hard-hitting in equal measure. What is most striking about their new documentary Gabby Giffords: Won’t Back Down is how, for most of the duration of the film, viewers will likely be caught between feelings of heartbreak and inspiration. Giffords wouldn’t like that, though. There’s a reason it’s called, Won’t Back Down. She doesn’t want your pity. Mostly, she wants your commitment to support better gun control. Her message, and how she is profiled, is in safe hands with the Academy Award-nominated and Emmy-winning directing duo. They knew from the beginning that what Gabby Giffords and her remarkable story leaves behind, above all, is a sense of joy.
That’s pretty miraculous given what she’s been through. The former Arizona congresswoman narrowly survived an assassination attempt that happened at a “Congress in Your Corner” event, outside a Safeway on January 8th of 2011 that killed 6 people. The gunman shot her in the head before he went on to fire into the crowd. Early reports that day announced she had died. What followed was a grueling and rocky rehabilitation, in which at first survival wasn’t certain, then there was doubt she’d walk, and the communication centers in her brain were so damaged in the shooting they weren’t sure she would ever speak again. At one point her doctor says into the camera, “Gabby’s injury was beyond what most of us can imagine.”
West and Cohen had the benefit of hours of footage of her recovery taken by Gabby’s husband, former astronaut and now-Senator Mark Kelly, starting the very first days in the hospital. He tracked her progress, and the documentary doesn’t shy away from the steep challenges Gabby faced on a daily basis. For a while, she suffered from something called perseveration, in which a brain injury patient gets stuck on a word. For Gabby it was “chicken”.
During all this, though she didn’t remember the shooting, she was aware she was speaking in a way that made it very hard for her to be understood. Her physical therapist, during a sessions Gabby cries through, explained “Frustration is part of the grieving process when you’ve been through an injury of this kind.” It’s hard to even imagine what it must have been like for her and for loved ones like Mark Kelly.
To read the review in its entirety, go to AWFJ.org HERE.