Six weeks after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 killed 26 people, including 20 first-graders, in Newtown, Connecticut, filmmaker Kim A. Snyder traveled to the shattered town.
She spent the next three and a half years in a community still reeling from the carnage.
The result? The documentary Newtown, premiering on PBS on April 3, which weaves together intimate and emotionally raw interviews of parents, teachers, first responders and others with never-before-seen footage.
“After the cameras leave, the community is left to carry on with the trauma and the heartache of the worst devastation imaginable,” producer Maria Cuomo Cole tells PEOPLE.
She says their goal “was to share the real story of what happened to the families of loved ones lost in tragedies like this and other members of the community.”
Snyder, who directed Newtown, says: “We felt that a story needed to be told that looked at the long-term aftermath of this kind of violence on an entire community, especially with so many of these incidents happening since then.”
But, she says, they also wanted to tell a story that showcases “the resilience and the hope that comes from watching an entire community move through the unthinkable.”
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The fortitude the filmmakers witnessed first-hand — and seeing other communities affected by gun violence reach out to help Sandy Hook — inspired a campaign and a three-part web series they call We Are All Newtown.
The series, which PEOPLE is exclusively debuting this week, explores the ramifications of and responses to gun violence in other communities, as a companion to the Newtown documentary.
“One of the things Maria and I have seen at the more than 1,000 screenings we have had [for the documentary] is that people finish the movie and are left with a gut punch and a reality check of, ‘What are we going to do?’ ” Snyder says.
“They often ask: ‘Is Newtown a tipping point? Or will it have been when we look back?’ “
The webisodes are an answer to that, Snyder explains:
“Part of the reason why we have done these We Are All Newtown webisodes and this campaign is to let people know the conversation is changing among doctors, priests, law enforcement — all the people you see in our film.”
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Cole adds, “What I think people can take away from this is that we have looked at problems like this in our past, like automobile accidents and smoking, and we have been able to come together with proactive, civil conversations about how to reduce deaths. That is what we want here.”
Part one of the web series, which PEOPLE is premiering Wednesday, illustrates how those conversations are taking place right now.
The first episode focuses on Pastor Sam Saylor, a minister in Hartford, Connecticut, whose 20-year-old son, Shane Oliver, was shot and killed less than two months before the Sandy Hook massacre.
Saylor explains in the episode how he was, at first, “sick and tired” of the focus on Newtown — as people are killed by guns every day. But then he realized the universal effects of gun violence.
Or as he puts it, echoing the movement: “We are all Newtown.”
The webisode shows him meeting with other spiritual leaders to discuss the gun violence epidemic and to push for the creation of a national anti-gun violence urban/suburban alliance. Such efforts are not uncommon, according to Newtown‘s creators.
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“That whole idea of the ripple effect of all of these communities inspired the campaign we call ‘We Are All Newtown,’ ” Snyder says.
“Whether you are in that club that no one wants to belong to or not, we all have to reckon with it right now,” she says. “We all have to have their backs.”
We Are All Newtown‘s three episodes feature spiritual leaders, politicians, law enforcement, survivors and others, all talking about how to move forward after a shooting.
Click here to contact your Congressional representatives to learn what is being done to stop the epidemic of gun violence in America — and to share what you think we should be doing.
Newtown airs on April 3 (9 p.m. ET) on PBS. The three-part web series We Are All Newtown will premiere exclusively on People.com, each day from Wednesday to Friday.