The Film Buffa: One of a kind Gabby Giffords gets powerful documentary treatment

People like to throw around the term “one of a kind” loosely. It’s used often and most of the time without the proper research to see if it’s really valid or not. Without an ounce of hesitation, I can tell you there is only Gabby Gifford.

The former Tucson congresswoman was shot in the head over 11 years ago while meeting with community members outside a grocery store. While the store had “safe” in the title, that day was anything but as a gunman opened fire, killing six people and injuring several others. One of them was Giffords, who was left partially paralyzed and with a language impairment. The one thing the shooter couldn’t accomplish that day was to impair Giffords’ spirit.

She’s tougher than you and me put together. That is just a finality, especially after watching her new documentary, “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down.” Directed by documentary filmmaking experts Betsy West and Julie Cohen-they co-directed “RBG,” “My Name is Paula Murray, and “Julie” together-this movie begins with the indomitable voice of Gabby as she walks around a special memorial dedicated to gun violence victims. Walking through and amongst the flower bouquets, each representing a state’s toll of life lost, she talks about connection and what a privilege it is to be alive. Less than a minute into the movie, you’re locked in firmly.

“Won’t Back Down” never wavers into preachy or dull territory with its message, which is the unstoppable willpower of Giffords and her team in creating more restrictions in gun acquisition. A gun owner and user herself, Giffords isn’t interested in eliminating weapons; she merely wants to make background checks stop them from falling into the wrong hands. It’s the kind of fight that she has always liked to pick, ever since she first met and became friends with former President (and Senator), Barack Obama. Something she would frequently say in her campaigns and ads was “change can’t wait.” The wait on gun control is one that she has known personally for over a decade now.

Supported wonderfully by her retired astronaut (and recently Arizona Senator) Mark Kelly, Giffords didn’t do much resting after recovering from a brain injury. The bullet that went through the left side of her head couldn’t short-circuit the willpower to take on the NRA, a corporation that continues to turn a blind eye to the overload of violence, even in the wake of numerous and seemingly unending mass shootings like the one she suffered from. West and Cohen’s documentary packs quite a punch in its 97 minutes, jumping around their subject’s timeline to achieve a broad scope of her reach, which isn’t slowing down soon.

Here’s the thing. 99% people on this Earth would get shot in the middle of doing something they love and feel strongly about, and immediately say that’s enough of that. A smaller portion of the fight would be picked up, but the larger issue would find a way to escape. That’s what usually happens in a boxing ring too. Someone gets knocked down, and may think of not risking so much next time. Giffords was shot in the head, and decided to keep on fighting. More so, she found a bigger fight after the awful events of 2011’s Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. In the same 12 month span, she was shot and 26 people died under one roof.

Sometimes, tragedy breeds a reluctance to push forward. When asked about the inactive response from Congress amid the NRA holding firm in its stance on gun control, Giffords pauses for a matter of seconds before responding succinctly, “Forward. Must move forward.” Instead of stopping to smell the whine bushes, Giffords just keeps marching on. Several states have acquired new and strict gun laws, but the country as a whole continues to run amok with the idea of weeding out the bad eggs.

For Giffords, it’s just another fight with a resilient attitude required to fight it. The injury didn’t just zap her own political career back in 2011; it also left a lot of good words stuck in her head. Oftentimes, Gabby will be trying to say something huge and meaningful, even telling the person listening that they’re in there somewhere. Giffords has the words, but her brain and overall system that recovered from the worst kind of gunshot wound make it difficult for her to get them out for others to hear. Here’s a woman with her own body fighting her and the outside corrupt world waging against her actions.

Nevertheless, Giffords keeps moving forward. She won’t back down, as the late Tom Petty sang often and proudly. It’s music that helped shine a flashlight into her memory in the days, weeks, and months after the shooting. You see, music and the memory of the music you listen to and love is located in areas all around the brain, not just one like speech or touch. Like a good musician, it stays in many hotels and rooms in your head, helping keep what’s sacred intact. Giffords’ love of music helped pull her out of the hole that the shooter aimed to put her in.

The same shooter was shown leniency by Giffords and other family members of the victims, which included a nine-year-old girl and a 30-year-old member of Giffords’ staff. Instead of asking for the death penalty, the former congresswoman just wanted life in prison for the person who tried to get in her way.

If “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down” teaches you one thing, it’s that very little can stop her from achieving what she sets out to get done. Along with getting to know her and how she became so well-liked and successful, West and Cohen take an unfiltered look at the daily rigors and difficulties that sit in front of Giffords each day. They don’t dwell on these things, but show them just enough to display their subject’s strength.

If the documentary leaves you with one thing, it’s that Giffords is truly one of a kind. There won’t be another like her. Anyone should be inspired, moved, and empowered to join Giffords’ fight to restrict the reach of guns after watching this movie. There isn’t a more clear front runner for Best Documentary. It’s available for rent or purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

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