[SXSW 2022] GABBY GIFFORDS WON'T BACK DOWN -- Another Inspiring and Agreeable Documentary From Julie Cohen and Betsy West
Review by Sean Boelman
Julie Cohen and Betsy West are a directorial duo behind a string of recent documentaries about pioneering women, and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is the latest subject whose story they are tackling. Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is as inspiring of a film as one would expect, even if it does fall back on some conventions.
The film tells the story of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and how she has rehabilitated after the assassination attempt that was made on her and left her partially paralyzed and with a speech impediment. Although the assassination attempt happened ten years ago, it was such a terrifying news event that it still feels like yesterday.
Cohen and West’s approach here is very hopeful, and that’s a big part of what makes it work so well. Although the film does talk about the assassination attempt, and explore the political implications that it has, the focus here is more on how she persevered and triumphed against the odds to successfully rehabilitate herself.
Granted, there are some moments that feel a bit cheap. It’s clear that the film is meant to get an emotional response out of the audience, and for the most part, it succeeds. Regardless of your political leanings, it would be hard not to be moved by this story of dedication and perseverance in the face of adversity.
The film does a great job of connecting the audience with the subject through a variety of means. Giffords’s relationship with her husband and the rest of her family is an integral part of the documentary because it is so fundamental to her identity. It’s really sweet and compelling and gives the film the personal touch it needs.
Like Cohen and West’s other documentaries (at least the ones about living subjects), the access that they get to Giffords is extraordinary. But the other thing that is going to make this film stand out are the other interviews that it was able to assemble. The film even features an appearance from President Barack Obama, which is no small feat.
It’s a very polished documentary, with a combination of fly-on-the-wall footage and interviews telling its story. These highly-produced and conventional but powerful documentaries often end up being crowd-pleasers, and audiences are just going to eat this up because of how agreeable it is.
Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is a documentary that is hard not to love. Although it is definitely made to a formula with a specific audience in mind, there’s a reason that this formula has led to so much success.
Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down screened at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival, which ran March 11-19.