America has a problem with gun violence, and Florida has been a unique flashpoint. Thanks to the influence of NRA lobbyists such as Marion Hammer, the Sunshine State has become a testing ground for pro-firearm policies, and it’s resulted in two of the deadliest mass shootings in history happening within the past two years.
The most recent was the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, in which the murder of 17 people at the school prompted surviving students to protest the violence through the press, on social media, and at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. Before that, however, came the 2016 shooting in Orlando, where a gunman killed 49 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub. At the time, it was the highest body count of any mass shooting in modern history.
On the second anniversary of that shooting, this Tuesday, June 12, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival will screen 49 Pulses, a documentary about the event. Through reenactments, police cam footage, phone calls, and interviews, filmmaker Charlie Minn, who will attend a Q&A after the screening, exhaustively details the events of that night. He speaks to survivors, victims’ families, local politicians, and a single police officer on scene that night, the only member of law enforcement who would speak to him. One thing he doesn’t focus on, in an attempt to discourage copycats, is the killer; viewers hear only his voice on calls with police.
“All my films represent innocent people who have been murdered,” he says. “I don’t mention the killer’s name in the film again. That’s become my MO. I think the media puts way too much attention on the killer.”
Originally a TV journalist, Minn began making his own documentaries in 2010 by applying his skills as an interviewer. His first film detailed an unsolved shooting in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and over the past decade, he’s made about two dozen films, more or less about the consequences of gun violence. Many of his early films, made in the Southwest, covered cartel violence. Murder Capital of the World detailed gang wars in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and Es El Chapo? took a look at the infamous drug lord.
Lately, however, Minn has shifted focus to violence north of the border through films such as 49 Pulses and the upcoming A Nightmare in Las Vegas, about the Mandalay Bay Resort shooting last year that replaced the Pulse massacre as the deadliest in U.S. history. He’s also beginning production on a new film about the Parkland shooting. Its working title: The Unknown Heroes.
“I realize, three or four months later, it’s still a very fresh wound,” he says. “But you’d be surprised, I’ve had quite a few people come out and want to tell their stories.”
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Minn says he doesn’t plan to interview David Hogg and Emma González, survivors and student activists who have become public figures in the months since the shooting. Instead, the filmmaker prefers to focus on lesser-known names. He also doesn’t see eye-to-eye with their fight for stricter gun control because he thinks it's a lost cause. He points to Operation Fast and Furious — a federal government scheme in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed sales of firearms to unlicensed buyers — as proof that the problem has spun out of control. He prefers to pressure authorities to improve their response to mass shootings as the “disease” of guns becomes more prevalent.
“There has to be conversations about police tactics, police delays,” he says.
Still, for those who wish to continue the struggle against the gun lobby, 49 Pulses, in its obsession with the minutiae of the shooting, offers a potent visualization of what will continue to happen if the status quo remains. It shows that the loudest voices in the debate over guns in America are those that are no longer capable of speaking.
49 Pulses. 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, at Savor Cinema, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale; 954-525-3456. Tickets cost $12 via fliff.com.