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INDEPENDENT LENS: Bulletproof

A student walks down a school hallway.
Credit: Jem Cohen
A student walks down a school hallway.

Premieres Monday, Feb. 14, 2022 at10:30 p.m. on KPBS TV / On Demand

From filmmaker Todd Chandler, "Bulletproof" takes a provocative look at what it means to feel safe in the classroom in the age of mass shootings. The film explores the complexities of violence in schools by examining the strategies employed to prevent it. Hailed as a “keenly observational documentary” by Variety and a “quiet gut punch of a film” by The Guardian, "Bulletproof" will make its broadcast debut on PBS’s INDEPENDENT LENS on Feb. 14, 2022.

Trailer | Bulletproof

The premiere coincides with the same date as the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “Bulletproof” is an urgent film that expands the conversation around gun violence by focusing on an overlooked angle: the daily realities of heightened fear and intensified security measures in schools.

The documentary takes a new approach to the conversation around gun violence in schools by examining attempts to stop it. Training, surveillance systems, lockdown mechanisms, and a host of bulletproof products are all among the growing effort to develop, market, and sell a panacea to this persistent, recurring crisis.

The film brings viewers inside schools across the United States, observing the age-old traditions that regularly take place: homecoming parades, basketball practice, morning announcements, and math class. Unfolding alongside these scenes are an array of newer rituals: lockdown drills, teacher firearms training, metal detector inspections, and school safety trade shows selling state-of-the-art products.

“Bulletproof” weaves together these moments in a cinematic meditation on fear, violence, and the meaning of safety. The documentary introduces viewers to the industry self-tasked with protecting the nation's children, while generating revenue along the way, as well as to those most deeply impacted by these heightened security measures: students and teachers.

In addition to filmmaking, Chandler has taught in high schools and universities for over 15 years and currently teaches in the film department at Brooklyn College. This experience as an educator provided Chandler a nuanced perspective and access to subjects ranging from frightened parents to skeptical school officials.

“I started teaching in 1999, and I learned to be a teacher in an era of a new kind of violence in schools,” said Chandler. “I approached ‘Bulletproof’ much as I do teaching—as a facilitator, posing questions, and provoking analysis through the juxtaposition of ideas, stories, and relationships. The film is a meditation on fear, the militarization of schools, and what it means to be safe.”

Without relying on numbing statistics or the polarized debate around gun control, “Bulletproof” aims to simply observe moments, details, and interactions at American schools, and to provide a deeper understanding of the complex world of school safety and the impact of increased fortification of schools on students and teachers.

“Bulletproof” had its world premiere at SXSW in March 2020, and also premiered at the Hot Docs Film Festival, Maryland Film Festival, Philadelphia Film Festival, Tacoma Film Festival, Camden International Film Festival, IDFA, San Sebastian Human Rights Film Festival, Melbourne International Film Festival, Frames of Representation, and others. Chandler won Best Emerging International Filmmaker at the Hot Docs Film Festival. The film has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes

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