For roughly the first 50 minutes of “Parkland: Inside Building 12,” students and teachers recall last year’s attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in harrowing detail: who heard what and when, who hid where, which doors were locked, who was bleeding or killed. Much of the second hour is then devoted to remembering the 17 dead, one by one. At the close, when Emma González is shown reciting their names at the March for Our Lives rally, we have a mental image of each person.
The movie, directed by Charlie Minn, is unbearable to watch, yet its centering of first-person testimony — supplemented with floor plans of the building and phone footage from that day — makes the massacre immediate in a way that sometimes gets lost in news coverage or political debates. As you watch the teacher Ernie Rospierski say he’s been avoiding thinking about could-haves and should-haves or hear descriptions of how precariously positioned the student Maddy Wilford was after being shot, it’s impossible to avoid the sense that their survival came down to chance. These could easily be other shootings or other survivors.
In fact, Minn has also made documentaries (presumably with the same approach) on the Pulse nightclub and Las Vegas shootings, and at times this hasty, low-budget production gives off an unfortunate air of ambulance chasing. Music cues provide unnecessary goosing; cheap re-enactments trace the shooter’s whereabouts; and the director, who is sometimes on camera, intersperses good questions with manipulative prods to his grieving subjects.
But the subjects are there, and to the extent that “Parkland: Inside Building 12” is a memorial, not a documentary, it has a raw power.