A few years ago, I came to the realization that life had thrown me a few lemons.  After a few brushes with death, a couple of failed relationships, joblessness, depression, and catharsis, those experiences failed to yield a single drop of lemonade.  Fruit juice aside, it was time to seek redemption.

Then a tragedy struck a small town near my home…  Parkland.

On February 14, 2018, a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, murdering 17 people and injuring 17 others.  In a mid-term election year, military-style weapons were immediately thrust into the national spotlight.

“The elected officials that you’re demanding action of have to know that you have the power to either put them in office or take them out of office.” — Andrew Gillum, Candidate for Florida Governor.

Upon hearing that a chartered bus was transporting a group of social activists from Miami, my hometown, to Tallahassee, the State Capitol, I had two hours to shower, pack a bag, and buy a spare battery for my Nikon.  It was a no-brainer.  When one is looking for a purpose, one will find it somehow.

Comprised of students and parents, mostly female, what was the purpose of this trip?  As my camera glided over images of these resting passengers, as it was around 2 A.M. after a Sunday night, varying opinions on the gun reform issue crept in.  It is then that I met Cindy Polo, a stay-at-home mom, “Girl Power”, a high school “DACA Dreamer”, Irene, and Paola. The foursome shared in their beliefs that something must be done about guns… “I can vote, I can post, and maybe I can run.”

After eight hours or so, we arrived at the capital city.  The passengers congregated with random activists from the state amid a large hall at Florida State University, my Alma Matter, listened to impassioned speeches, and marched to the Capitol Building to voice their concerns with elected officials.  It rained hard that afternoon, but not a single soul ran for cover.

“Girl Power”, 17, whose real identity I will protect, carried a sign with the locations and number of victims of gun violence from when she was seven to the present, and for which she previously felt helpless to do anything about…  Until that day.

High school student “Girl Power” carries a sign with the number of recent mass shooting victims.

Inside the Capitol, constituents attempted to meet with their elected officials, to no avail.  They voiced their frustrations with office assistants and interns who steadfastly guarded their bosses, unavailable due to their closed meetings with lobbyists.  But the Congressional Chamber was standing room only.  Overflow activists were forced to sit outside and listen to concerned speeches via a closed-circuit television set.

From the darkest tragedies come the bravest voices…. I followed up with Cindy about a month after that day.  When she told me that she had decided to run for office to honor her son and in memory of the fallen, I had to continue tell her story with my weapon of choice:  My trusty movie camera.

“One day my son is going to ask what I did after seventeen people were killed, and I cannot look at him anymore and say that I did nothing.” — Cindy Polo, stay-at-home-mom and political candidate.

Before and during “March For Our Lives”, Cindy described the new challenges she would face.  She and her family marched along with thousands of concerned citizens, paralleling the newfound activism of “Girl Power”, whose familiar sign depicted a rallying cry seldom heard from her generation.

After months of canvassing, Cindy discussed her journey as a political candidate, visiting polling stations, embracing her volunteers, and encouraging voters to choose her.  Her husband, son, and best friend enthusiastically supported her.

When the polls closed, she reached out via social media to all her staff and friends, anxious about the results that would be announced in a short period of time.  As she rushed into a restaurant party, instead of searching for election results, to be expected, she instead embraced her baby boy.  She never forgot the reason she ran for office.  And to not spoil the end of my film, I encourage you to watch it when it plays near you.

Because of the immediate nature of the subject matter, I was limited in crewing.  But that also allowed for a “carte-blanche” opportunity to film in areas and events normally only reserved for mainstream media.  The intimacy of several moments would have been impossible with a larger production.  In other words, to get to the heart of the matter and capture the “real life” stuff, I had to remove some of the distracting production assets.  And as to learn a new skill as a listener, I only asked my subjects:  “Why are you here?”  It was all I needed to ask.

Philip Levine, Candidate for Florida Governor, discusses gun violence and gun reform with the press.

The Parkland massacre mobilized a powerful millennial movement I had not witnessed before and had only heard in stories of the 1960’s and civil rights causes.  In production, I embraced the importance of documenting citizens expressing their first amendment rights by capturing their personal journeys, specifically their own motivations to fight for gun reform…  The sky is the limit on who I hope it will inspire.

Given that the film’s protagonist is an American-born woman of Latinx heritage who decides to run for public office, this project can serve as an encourager of empowerment for all women.  There are many stay-at-home moms who make up supporting characters in the piece, as well as students of high school and college age.  I became acquainted with so many activist groups I previously never knew existed.  What an eye opener it was to interview them, thriving in our diverse communities and as proactive as their needs call for.  And the trust these citizens they gave me I will never forget, allowing me access to their lives and doing so with 100% open-arms.

Cindy Polo takes part in the March For Our Lives rally with other social activists in Parkland, Florida.

If more women and college-aged citizens are inspired to become social activists and political candidates after watching my film, that will trump any awards the film might get. Don’t misunderstand me:  I will never turn down an award for film.  Awards are a way to celebrate my love for film.

But I was bedazzled by the instant community that was created by these citizens who simply hoped to let their elected officials know an issue that is of great importance to them:  Gun Reform.  And when those representatives ignored their concerns, they took it upon themselves to pray, vote, march, post, and, in the case of Cindy, run for public office.

It is a fact the Latinx population comprises a disproportionate amount of the victims of gun violence in the United States.  The election of Donald Trump showed that there are forces of hate who wish for us of Latinx heritage to disappear forever.  This project serves as an example of democracy at its finest moment:  If you are a citizen who feels stymied by the system, all it takes is for you to find a common community, and you can inspire change.  If you run for office and actually win the election, you can literally start to create that very change.

Frustrated by their elected officials, social activists mobilize and protest beside the Florida Capitol.

It is of utmost importance that my film be seen by a voting audience before the upcoming elections.  Who knows?  Perhaps it will speak to those who feel the socio-political system is not working for their best interests and help swing a vote for the benefit of the people.  America needs that now.

However, this is not an effort to create further political division, but it is rather an attempt to present an argument for intelligent, respectful discourse among all sides of the gun issue.  I hope the final version of the film inspires more youth and parents to get socially engaged.  If my characters are any indication, there is power in voicing opinions and acting on their behalf.

So back to this redemption thing: After twenty-five years making films, I know why I was put on Earth. I took on a new life purpose:  How to turn an extreme tragedy into a positive experience.  This is a topic that is near-and-dear to my heart.  I wholeheartedly know this is my most important film to date.

Writer-Director-Producer Adam Schlachter and political candidate Cindy Polo the day of the primary.

Anne Clements & Hoan Tran Present:
For Your Film Awards Consideration
Best Documentary (Short Subject)
“And The Brave Shall Rise”
Directed By Adam Schlachter
Produced By Van Kassabian