‘Song of Parkland’ brings life-affirming touch to tragedy

Posted at 7:42 AM, Feb 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-07 09:42:02-05

Hard as it is to believe, Valentine’s Day will mark the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which birthed a teen-led gun-control crusade. HBO marks that moment through a narrow window into it with “Song of Parkland,” a half-hour documentary short that’s equal parts uplifting and heartbreaking.

Spare and economical, the documentary essentially plays out between two events: the terrible killing of 17 teachers and students at the school, and a group of Marjory Stoneman theater students singing “Seasons of Love,” from “Rent,” in a huge emotional moment at last year’s Tony Awards.

In between, producer-director Amy Schatz (“An Apology to Elephants”) zeroes in on theater teacher Melody Herzfeld — who offers a pointed reminder that these are teenagers, thrown into a horrific situation and the public spotlight — seeking to recover a sense of normalcy.

“They’re supposed to be kids first,” Herzfeld says. “These kids that are making these speeches, and they’re going up and being so strong, they can’t even tie their shoes. They can’t even remember to put deodorant on … or remember their homework. But they’re trying to, like, do something.”

“Song of Parkland” captures with these youths have done, how they have forced a conversation about gun control, weathering the partisan attacks that come with entering the political arena as activists.

Part of that poise, it’s noted, emanated from students in the theater program, and the joy they exhibit performing, coupled with Herzfeld’s emotional response once it’s over, is life-affirming, in the midst of a story so immersed in pain and darkness.

At the same time, the interviews provide insight into a small town that “feels broken,” wondering how a community recovers from the loss that made Parkland a household name.

“Song of Parkland” doesn’t answer some of these questions, and at best provides glimpses of the school’s emergence as a focal point of activism, through the students and their teacher.

By that measure, the documentary could have easily run two or three times longer, although after the emotion of that cathartic Tony performance, there’s nothing wrong with leaving the audience wanting more, with a “Song” that hits nary a false note.

“Song of Parkland” premieres Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. on HBO. Like CNN, the network is a unit of WarnerMedia.