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CPH:DOX 2021 Nordic:Dox Award

Review: Raising a School Shooter

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- Beware – Frida and Lasse Barkfors tap into every parent's worst nightmare. For the third time

Review: Raising a School Shooter

Frida and Lasse Barkfors really know no mercy – after the pretty self-explanatory Pervert Park [+see also:
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and Death of a Child, the Danish directorial duo now takes on the topic of teenage school shooters. Or rather their parents, left with more questions than answers, sticking out like sore thumbs in their reeling communities, and wondering whether it might be better to reach out to the victims' families or to their own child, provided the latter has survived.

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In short, it's a tough one. As shown by the conversations with three different people in the similarly self-explanatory title Raising a School Shooter [+see also:
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, which is having its world premiere in the Nordic:Dox section of this year’s CPH: DOX, the reaction is always pretty much the same: the parents are the first to be blamed. If, according to a certain logic, monsters are raised and not born, then of course it must be the parents’ fault. But the people shown by the Barkforses are soft-spoken and seemingly kind, and their family lives mostly deprived of trauma — with the exception of one absent father, perhaps, who shares a thought or two about his divorce.

Either way, once stories start flooding in, schools and rampant bullying seem to be a much bigger issue. This might be because, understandably, the parents do not want to believe that they have done something wrong. Or it might just be because it’s true: in one scene, a visibly relieved father recalls the moment another child admitted to also having been terribly tormented – just like his son. But these parents still kick themselves for not listening, not being present and not noticing that something bad was happening right under their noses. If there is one thing that seems to unite all school shooters is that they do not really talk about their problems and do not ask for help – least of all from their parents.

Given how much media exposure such events normally get, it is almost a relief that these directors do not go there at all – no breaking news footage is used in the film, no faces of the shooters are shown. Just like in the recent Sundance discovery, Mass, which deals with a similar topic, we only see broken parents. They wander about, with their backs turned to the camera, fixing their homes and talking about a child who seems to have little to do with the killer known from the press. The film does get repetitive after a while, but their stories, even without any visual aids, still pack a punch — such as the one about a mother finding out that her son might be behind the Columbine massacre and “praying that he would die” if that was really the case, then deciding to cremate his body, afraid someone would hurt him. Or another, about the neighbours bringing over food, unsure what the social etiquette is for when someone's child commits such an act.

It might be this very simplicity that makes the Barkfors’ film such a respectful, delicate take on a subject that has been sensationalised beyond recognition. Indeed, one does not need to see the violence to understand the unspeakable horror of worrying about your child, then finding out that “he did it”. Of having to sit in a court, to listen to how bad he was, and to deal with the “open season” on your family. “My son is a school shooter and it's going to stay this way,” says one father here. It's true. But he still refers to him as his son.

Raising a School Shooter was produced by Denmark's Final Cut for Real, Sweden's De Andra Film, France's Les Films Grain de Sable, Belgium's Visible Film and Sweden's Film i Skåne. Sales are handled by DR International Sales.

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