The Giffords documentary comes as discussions about guns remain center stage

In the past two years documentaries have been looming over former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the most controversial moment for them has been in the kitchen of her Tucson, Arizona home.

As the cameras rolled, she and her husband, Senator Mark Kelly, carelessly opened the refrigerator. Kelly grabbed a plastic bowl and revealed that it held a piece of Giffords’ skull that had to be removed after being shot.

“This stays here alongside the empanada and the mango slices,” Kelly said.

Giffords’ response was “Sera, sera,” referring to the song “Que sera, sera,” or “What will be, will be.”


A scene from the film is emblematic of Giffords’ openness to reflection but does not weaken in the 2011 filming that changed her life. It was this desire that drove her to allow cameras into her life for two years – all as the pandemic progressed.

“For me it was really important to move forward, not to look back,” Giffords told The Associated Press while in Los Angeles promoting the film. “I hope others will be inspired to keep moving forward no matter what.”

From the filmmakers behind Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Oscar-nominated documentary “RBG,” “Gabby Giffords Wn’t Back Down” is in part an intimate look at Giffords’ recovery after the January 2011 shooting that left six dead and 13 injured outside a supermarket Tucson. But the film, which hits theaters July 15, is also an inside look at how she and Kelly got through the gun control and later Senate campaigns. The movie couldn’t be more timely with the discussion of gun reform in government, schools, and the US Supreme Court.

“It’s just a great story about Gabe coming back from an injury that not many people have survived,” said Betsy West, co-director. “After meeting Gabe on Zoom, we saw what a great communicator she was. We had a feeling we could have a lot of fun despite the very difficult topic of gun violence.”

At the same time, they wanted to strike the right balance for how backwards looking in the shoot.

“We definitely didn’t want to walk away from January 8th,” said Julie Cohen, the film’s other director. “It’s clearly something that changed her life.” “But Gabe is ultimately defined by everything she achieved before and after that. We wanted that achievement to show.”

The film also doesn’t shy away from discussing Jared Lee Lugner, the gunman in the Tucson shooting. Interviews with law enforcement, journalists, and a video by Loughner show how he managed to purchase a semi-automatic weapon despite his mental illness. He was sentenced in 2012 to life in federal prison without parole.

“We didn’t want to get into the conversation about the shooter but we also wanted to explain what happened,” West said. “Gabi and Mark didn’t shy away from going to sentencing to make a very impassioned plea for life in prison. That was a very important part of the movie.”

Recent mass shootings, including the killings of 19 students and two teachers in Ovaldi, Texas, and 10 supermarket shoppers — all black — in Buffalo, New York, have brought gun violence back to the fore. On Thursday, the US Supreme Court struck down a law allowing the acquisition of a gun in New York. The case relates to a state law that makes it difficult for people to obtain a permit to carry a gun outside the home. The justices said that this requirement violated the Second Amendment’s right to “keep and bear arms.”

Also on Thursday, the US Senate easily approved a bipartisan gun violence bill. Weeks of closed-door talks resulted in an additional but historic package in response to the mass shootings. The House of Representatives will vote on Friday.

Much like the documentary after Uvalde, debates about gun control reached fever pitch after the murder of 26 children and teachers by a gunman at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. Giffords and other advocates, including some Newtown Fathers, were called “props” by National Rifle Association officials. Having spent time with Giffords and others affected by gun violence, the film’s directors say their voices are central to the discourse.

“To say that somehow Gabby shouldn’t be talking about gun violence because she was subjected to violence? It doesn’t make any sense,” Cohen said.

A crucial element of the documentary came from videos that Kelly took of Giffords at Tucson Hospital and at a rehabilitation facility in Houston. These include President Barack Obama – who is interviewed in the film – and Michelle Obama’s visit to Giffords’ unconscious bed. It also includes the first few months of speech therapy.

The bullet penetrated the left hemisphere of Giffords’ brain that serves language ability, causing her to suffer from aphasia. As you can see in the old videos, Giffords sobs in frustration as she struggles to read and stumbles at the saying “chicken.”

Giffords said watching these videos can make her sad, but she is determined to be upbeat.

“I’m getting better. I’m getting better (I’m getting better) slowly but I’m definitely getting better,” Giffords said.

Giffords is the third film produced by West and Cohen on a female icon. Last year, they released “Julia,” a documentary about the influence of television chef and author Julia Child. “RBG” was a huge commercial success when it was introduced four years ago. The filmmakers say that while Giffords and Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg, who died in 2020 at the age of 87, are two very different characters, they think viewers will see a lot of similarities. They are both tough, tenacious and optimistic and are at the heart of “feminist love stories”.

Giffords often has to remind people that she still has a voice even if it isn’t easy speaking—whether it’s about gun safety or other issues. She said she really feels the climate is different now but that people have to be patient because change is “slow,” and Washington, DC, is “really slow.”

It plans to refocus on making stricter federal background checks a reality through its Gun Owners for Safety alliance. The bill approved by the Senate would only boost background checks for buyers between the ages of 18 and 20.

If there’s one message she wants viewers to take from the documentary, said Giffords, it’s “Kill, fight, fight every day.”

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