“Midsummer at Newton” is a celebration of the resilience of life; a story of a community doing whatever they can to try and move forward after a tragic event. In the year following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, a group of New York artists decided to travel to Newton, CT. Their goal? To create a stage production with the children from the Newton school system. It was to be Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but with a decidedly more modern interpretation of the musical score. The documentation of the project certainly exudes the healing and positive aspects of this activity. But as a documentary film, “Midsummer at Newton” may be a little too subjective, far less comprehensive.
The film follows three families, two of which have children who are involved in the play and were survivors of the fateful December day. The third is a family who lost their daughter in the tragedy. Since the play actually involves children throughout all the schools in the district, perhaps there were only a select few from Sandy Hook. This would explain the decision to include a third family, but it makes the main subject matter seem like it isn’t enough to carry the film on its own, and perhaps it wouldn’t be.
The documentary also tells the story of Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez-Greene, who lost their six year-old daughter Ana in the tragedy. As Jimmy was a successful traveling musician before settling down to raise a family, his story fits in with the overall theme. Jimmy decides to stage his own musical performance in honor of his late daughter, scenes of which are shown late in the film.
Perhaps “Midsummer at Newton” was created with television in mind. Director Lloyd Kramer(who most recently made the disastrous TV movie “Liz & Dick”) has had his career roots firmly implanted in television, and this documentary feels like it would be right at home on PBS. And the amount of content surrounding the play feels like just enough to cover a one-hour time block.
“Midsummer at Newton” is all about healing, but that healing is selective. It would have been nice to hear from more families who had children involved in the play, or at least had some reactions from others in the community as to how the play touched them. Certainly there are two stories here, but both revolve around healing. There are those healing through the play, and those who aren’t. Both would be worthy of their own feature, and it appears that there would be more subjects falling into the second category. Kramer tries to blend the two together, but still barely inches toward 80 minutes of content.
Arts-as-a-healing-mechanism certainly isn’t a new concept, but “Midsummer in Newton” is a human story, first and foremost. It is a quick and emotional journey through the lives of just a few of those the Sandy Hook massacre affected. Since the documentary centers on the particular stage production, it addresses only a small number of those reeling with the tragic events of that day. Perhaps a more comprehensive portrait of Newton and the Sandy Hook aftermath will come around someday. In the meantime, this smaller piece of the puzzle will have to do.