Raising A School Shooter


Reviewed by: Matthew Anderson

Raising A School Shooter
"The Barkfors should be commended for the simplicity of their directorial choices, which elevate the emotional impact and make it easier for the viewer to relate to this very sensitive subject matter." | Photo: Courtesy of CPH:Dox

The third in their trilogy of ‘American’ films, Frida and Lasse Barkfors’ latest project – receiving its world premiere at CPH:DOX – confronts similarly demanding material. After Pervert Park (2014) and Death Of A Child (2017), Raising a School Shooter looks to the decades-long aftermath endured by parents reeling in the wake of atrocities committed by sons, left dead or incarcerated.

The essential conceit of this documentary, cleverly hinted at by its title, ties in to a visceral, vengeful, reactionary response. Pointing the finger of blame, the assignation of wrongdoing or neglect, demanding of a mother and two fathers: how did you let this happen? What did you do that created such monsters? In their clear-sighted, compassionate argument, the Swedish directorial duo pare back the film’s structure to the testimony of Sue Klebold, Jeff Williams and Clarence Elliot alone.

Interviewed separately, and with no suggestion their paths have crossed previously, the threads are stitched together, each demonstrating common themes and experiences – most notably, perhaps, gun control and schools failing to deal with the systemic bullying suggested as a contributing factor to these devastating events. Building upon notions of grief, shame, a desire for atonement and self-forgiveness, the ultimate aim for these parents is an understanding of how and why something so horrific could have been perpetrated by their own child. Furthermore, could speaking out about such inexplicable horror help to prevent similar violence occurring in the future? Without intrusion or guiding questions, the Backfors take a restrained back step, allowing their subjects to speak freely.

Even with many years' distance, the words do not come easily. More is communicated by a father’s choked, broken voice than would be the case for any news montage or purposefully sensationalist footage from the time. The Barkfors should be commended for the simplicity of their directorial choices, which elevate the emotional impact and make it easier for the viewer to relate to this very sensitive subject matter. One recalls the moment, in 2001, he learnt his son had committed multiple murders, as he was standing outside 15-year-old Andy’s school, unaware that he was in fact the gunman. “And the kids told me: 'He did it',” remembers Williams. A lump in his throat and teary-eyed, this father’s rawness of emotion echoes through time and the film.

Klebold, whose son Dylan was one of two shooters responsible for the infamous Columbine massacre, “prayed [at the time] that he would die,” such was her shame, the revulsion she felt at his actions. At a slender 74 minutes, Raising A School Shooter in no way neglects the victims of these crimes, but shows them due respect in the words of those who still feel, at least in part, responsible. What could I have done differently? What signs did I miss? Focusing our attention on individuals isolated by crimes outside of their direct control, whose worlds simultaneously exploded and imploded in an instant, who have been surrounded by bullying, ostracisation and vindictiveness ever since, we realise sympathy is not reserved only for the families of those killed or injured.

Confessional, apologetic, remorseful to this day, when will Klebold, Williams and Elliot end their self-admonition? Tidying homes, shopping for groceries, going for a hike, sharing a beer and playing darts; daily life continues, albeit with an ever-present elephant in the room. For those who have seen Ava DuVernay’s 13th or Garrett Bradley’s incredible, Oscar-nominated feature, Time, the 100+-year term given to Elliot’s son, Nicholas, for the killing of a teacher at his Virginia school will strike an all-too familiar, bitter chord. With no prior record and at just 16 at the time, the then young black man has now spent more than 30 years behind bars.

The tentacular injustices and social ills that spread from Raising a School Shooter are innumerable. As are the stories similar to these three. Just three shootings of 1,677 (at the time of filming) that have occurred in the US since 1970. The investment and understanding which this film demands of a viewer reflects that which it hopes to encourage: listen without judgement, look at an event from multiple angles, connect with people on all sides. To do so takes courage and filmmakers and subjects alike should be applauded for doing so here.

Reviewed on: 25 Apr 2021
Share this with others on...
Three parents of American teenagers who committed school shootings speak out.

Director: Frida Barkfors, Lasse Barkfors

Year: 2021

Runtime: 74 minutes

Country: Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, France


Search database: