Bulletproof, a sly, sharp-eyed documentary on US faculty security within the period of mass shootings, traces a horrific and absurd established order. A lockdown drill at an in all places highschool, college students crouched below desks, in corners. A monitoring badge system for a district in Texas Metropolis, Texas, which exhibits directors each particular person’s actual location on campus; a first-grade trainer in Colorado studying to shoot a gun so she will defend her “kiddos”; a division head displaying his district’s 22 AR-15s, since “being within the tactical discipline myself I perceive the significance of superior firepower.” Lower to high-schoolboys taking part in basketball, a homecoming sport, cheerleading observe, banter on the bleachers.
It’s a quiet intestine punch of a movie, one which takes within the tradition of violence within the US by way of observations of routine moderately than notorious ruptures. Quite a few documentaries – Song of Parkland, Us Kids, and After Parkland on the aftermath of the taking pictures at Marjory Stoneman Douglas highschool on 14 February 2018 – have examined the unfathomable and sickening mundanity of college shootings within the US, in addition to a youth-led motion to limit entry to weapons. However Bulletproof, directed by Todd Chandler, takes a extra indirect but nonetheless chilling strategy: the conventional that routine violence, concern and political gridlock have wrought on faculty districts throughout the nation.
The undertaking, which started in 2015, isn’t restricted to excessive colleges. Chandler was all in favour of “customs, rituals, performances or choreographies that have been linked in a roundabout way – all of the type of on a regular basis issues that happen in and round colleges”, he instructed the Guardian. “All this stuff are coming from the identical place – the homecoming parade and the lockdown drill are each a type of efficiency, and so they’re each deeply American rituals and so they each have this shared origin story.”
The American training system is the nexus of an online of cultural, social and political tug-of-wars, from race to funding to curricula. So it’s no shock the highschool has turn into the testing floor for concepts of security – who it’s for, how a lot and in what methods we should always pay for it, what individuals will do within the absence of it, actual or perceived. The 84-minute movie affords a roving portrait of variations to the omnipresence of weapons – from over-policing at school districts with majority college students of coloration to costly, grandiose safety measures in ones that may afford it.
Chandler visits districts in Texas, Missouri, New York Metropolis and different locations, in addition to a contentious faculty board assembly in Pittsburgh, an EMT and gun class for academics in Colorado, the Silicon Valley bed room the place a younger entrepreneur is creating bulletproof hoodies to guard her mother and brother, who reside in an unsafe neighborhood. There’s a commerce present for college security gear that features bulletproof whiteboards, lockdown compartments and distracting flash-bangs – and Vegas showgirls. Not all scenes are responses to mass shootings, perpetrated overwhelmingly by white teenage males; archival footage from 1993 depicts the set up of metallic detectors on the entrance of a predominantly black faculty.
That historical past, and one other scene wherein one classroom practices a lockdown drill and instantly processes it by way of an open dialogue, exhibit how “modes of stopping violence really feel fairly violent in and of themselves,” mentioned Chandler. “What does that say about the place we’re at and what we’re doing?”
Bulletproof bounces between totally different areas across the US, although the exact places are intentionally understated. There aren’t any title playing cards or pin drops, in an effort to “resist a form of specificity”, Chandler mentioned. Laying out the map might “result in ascribing a form of causality”, as in: after all it’s taking place in Texas, after all it’s taking place in Chicago, after all it’s like this in a crimson state/interior metropolis, insert your biases or large-scale regional assumptions right here.
“It felt prefer it was going to undermine what I felt like I used to be experiencing whereas filming, which is that this isn’t particular to Missouri, or Texas, or Chicago,” he mentioned. “That is taking place in a number of locations, so let’s not focus an excessive amount of on the main points of place.”
The identical holds true for one-name occasions – there’s footage of reporters getting ready to talk on what’s clearly one other iteration of a now-routine American tragedy, birds-eye footage of scholars streaming from a constructing previous four-square and tennis courts. However there’s no point out of a particular taking pictures, no headlines, no pleas from survivors or family members. Just like the function movie Mass, launched this month, the viewers is tasked with supplying a lot of the context for particular person occasions, which isn’t exhausting to do. Everyone knows what the helicopters, Swat groups, and tearful crowds imply, what the headlines will appear to be, the routines of mass grief and “ideas and prayers”.
“Movies have been made in regards to the particular, and I believe these movies could be crucial,” mentioned Chandler. “However this simply felt like a distinct undertaking,” one in regards to the rituals of gun violence on this nation – mass shootings, but in addition a quickly evolving new regular of “security” in numerous colleges.
Chandler mentioned he thought-about speaking to individuals instantly derailed by gun violence within the US – somebody incarcerated by an over-policed faculty, or somebody who misplaced a cherished one to a taking pictures. However he felt doing so would “take an excessive amount of air out of the dialog, so to talk”. As an alternative, the goal was the “making unusual” of rituals in Twenty first-century American colleges – “so many issues that both have lengthy been or are actually rapidly turning into regular”.
The aftermath of the taking pictures in Parkland, Florida, hangs over the movie, although it’s not explicitly talked about; reference to a particular incident “instantly makes it about faculty shootings” – which it’s, partially, however Chandler mentioned he hoped the movie “asks a deeper query about American violence”, and what we think about mandatory and regular.
Bulletproof construes the query of violence in American colleges broadly; Chandler is cautious to level out that it’s not simply mass shootings but in addition state violence, notably the over-surveillance of scholars of coloration. Pointedly, the one faculty district working towards holistic strategies for the well being of scholars – mindfulness, dialogue – is in Chicago, the place nearly all of college students are Hispanic or Black, and may communicate to actual experiences of gun violence of their neighborhoods.
But Bulletproof, in merely observing a drop-in on a regular basis across the nation, stays nonjudgmental, permitting individuals to clarify their logic. A Texas district was given $6.5m by the state particularly for safety, a first-grade trainer needs to be ready, an engineer could make a bulletproof desk, so why not?
“I on the one hand hear that logic [of stopping the bullets],” mentioned Chandler. “And however, if we have now any variety of people who find themselves taking that siloed strategy, what we find yourself doing is making a sequence of at finest, Band-Aids, when the deeper questions” – on white supremacy, masculinity, capitalism, the ubiquity and ease of weapons – stay unanswered.
Within the meantime, courses go on, college students stroll the hallways, attend soccer video games, gossip. Bulletproof concludes with this open-ended ordinariness, the low stakes scenes of American secondary training directly fetishized, over-scrutinized and price defending.