There are miles of documentary footage on gun violence, usually taking the victim or law enforcement agent’s point of view. But Behind the Bullet turns the camera around and looks at the ones who squeezed the trigger and in a split second saw their lives change dramatically. What we see on screen is at times surprising, often fraught with conflicting emotions and sometimes unsettling.
This approach is effective because we hear a range of opinions and yet the film manages to avoid devolving into an anti- or pro-gun-control screed. The topic of gun-control is hardly touched upon. Director Heidi Yewman focuses instead on the aftermath of four shootings and the ways that those incidents profoundly changed the lives of the ones involved.
Yewman is well acquainted with the issues and the human cost of gun violence. In 1999 her former basketball coach and teacher was killed in the Columbine High School massacre along with 12 students. She’s a Columbine graduate. That event inspired her 2009 book, Beyond the Bullet: Personal Stories of Gun Violence Aftermath profiles 19 people whose lives were changed by gun violence.
The four on whom the film focuses differ in racial and economic background, as well as the circumstances that brought them to the critical moment when a firearm discharged.
“…focuses instead on the aftermath of four shootings and the ways that those incidents profoundly changed the lives of the ones involved.“
As a youth in Philadelphia, Will Little went to prison for a shooting at a roller rink. He grew up in a culture in which young men routinely carried weapons to defend themselves on the mean streets of the city. Having completed his sentence, he has since taken up a trade cutting hair and leads support groups for others carrying the guilt of involvement in violent incidents.
Kevin Leonard, a self-proclaimed outdoorsman, shot and killed a burglar who was robbing his rural Washington state home. Although he was not held liable for the shooting and was legally in the right, the remorse he carries with him dramatically changed his life,
When he was just a child, Taylor Dwyer accidentally shot and killed his younger brother with a handgun left out in his parents’ room. The gun belonged to his mother and was purchased to protect the family — Taylor’s father, Daron, was frequently away from home on business.
Christen McGinnes is the lone figure among the four who is recovering from a gunshot wound herself, the circumstances of which I won’t mention to avoid revealing a twist near the end.
“…to focus on the human toll brought about by gun violence…”
At times, you might find yourself wanting the film to make a more pointed argument about guns in America.
One of the few references to the issue of guns in the home comes from the Dwyer family. Several years after the death of their child they decided to resume sports shooting — previously they’d shed all their guns in the wake of the tragedy. Otherwise, the film steers clear of firearms discussions, save for some startling statistics shown as the closing credits roll: There are about 12,000 gun homicides per year in the United States, and just 2 percent are considered justified. Some 82 percent of the gun deaths of children under 10 take place in a home. And 1 in 3 households with children own guns.
The point here, it seems, is to focus on the human toll brought about by gun violence while putting aside the polemics that usually accompany any such discussion. Those on either side of the issue are notoriously hard to win over — how many mind-numbing political arguments on social media ever change anyone’s mind? Instead, perhaps focusing on the victims and perpetrators of this kind of violence may be one of the few ways of addressing the issues that could give pause to those on both sides of the question.
Behind the Bullet (2019) Directed by Heidi Yewman. Starring Will Little, Christen McGinnes, Kevin Leonard, Daron Dwyer, Taylor Dwyer. Behind the Bullet screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars