Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"By focusing on just one person and her day to day struggles, Curran throws the US gun crisis into sharp relief." | Photo: Courtesy of Inside Out

2022’s Inside Out film festival began just a few days after a horrific shooting in a US elementary school. Mass killings are so common in that country now that even then, people coming late to conversations about the shooting were asking “Which one?” Society at large moves on and forgets about those which took place in previous years, but the survivors are left to deal with trauma which never goes away. This film follows Jeannette Feliciano, a survivor of the shooting at gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida in 2016, in which 49 people died and many more were left with life-changing injuries. Jeannette was one of the lucky ones, but as she says at the start, she will never forget having a gun pointed at her face.

When one knows that someone tried to kill one because of the way one was born, there is all the more reason to fight to regain life on one’s own terms, and that’s what Jeannette is determined to do. She’s a fitness trainer, an award-winning bodybuilder and mother to a teenage son. One way or another, she has a lot of people looking to her for an example. Furthermore, like a lot of those caught up in that particular shooting, she had a life full of challenges before it happened. In some ways this has toughened her up; in others, in has made the process of recovery harder. She’s very proactive and very aware of her vulnerabilities. One of the most difficult things, she says, is that she has never truly had a safe haven: every time she thinks she’s found one, something snatches it away.

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She talks, here, about her childhood, about having an older gay sister who made her aware of what she would have to face upon coming out long before she did so. About living in fear of her parents. Her mother features in the film, and is starkly aggressive on the subject of Jeannette’s sexuality, apparently quite unconcerned as to what viewers may think of the way she treats her child. Jeannette is impressively resilient, but that’s something which has obviously come at a price. There are signs of damage. A tendency to obsess about things which she has channelled into perfecting her figure but which still threatens to push her to extremes. Her chosen family members are gentle with her, protective. Two very cute little dachshunds ensure a constant supply of affection.

Maris Curran’s documentary follows her through difficult weeks. The disaster in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017, which affects family members, prompting her to go over there and help. The trial of Noor Salman, the Pulse gunman’s widow who was accused of helping him, in that same year. She is stalwart, managing her feelings. We see the effort, the careful choices involved, in a film which defies conventional narratives around victims and those perceived as heroically overcoming harm. If she provides inspiration for other survivors, it’s at a very practical level. Most importantly, she comes across as a complete individual with a full, complicated life; it is impossible to reduce her to a statistic, and that should help us to recognise the real cost of every mass killing.

There is no sentimentality here. There is no effort to tell the stories of the dead. By focusing on just one person and her day to day struggles, Curran throws the US gun crisis into sharp relief. It is also a testament to Jeannette’s tremendous strength, and a reflection on the way that LGBTQ+ people and racial minorities in the US often end up needing all their strength just to survive when they could be doing much, much more.

Reviewed on: 30 May 2022
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A survivor of the Pulse Nightclub massacre recalls and reflects on the experience.

Director: Maris Curran

Starring: Yvens Carrenard, Jennette Feliciano

Year: 2022

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: US


IO 2022
OutfestLA 2022

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