James and Tiffany Dugger were sitting in their Portland office when news started breaking about a school massacre in Uvalde, Texas.
“We saw it come over the television and we both just said: Not again,” the married couple, who run Eleven Films, tell The Independent in an email. “Not f’ing again. We cried. Again.
“And their ages ... it felt like a gut punch. We have one daughter left in college and we can’t help but see her Second Grade face in their faces. This is a tragedy that no one should ever forget or look away from. SOMETHING must be done.”
The pair took matters into their own creative hands; they had experience with Eleven Films content getting attention after their ad Midnight in Washington went viral two years ago. The short video, about the Trump impeachment, had reached 26 million views by March of this year, the production company tweeted.
After Uvalde, the Duggers began mining through footage they hoped to use for a short video, set against the backdrop of haunting music they’d discovered more than two years ago but had been “holding onto it all of this time just waiting for the right project.”
This particular project, they felt, was the one; the song Awaken Dawn would accompany a powerful montage showing historical and more recent school shootings across America.
The Duggers combed through “all the hours of everything that has ever been aired” about the shootings - “All the social media, all the news stories, all the interviews. And then we sift through it all and choose the clips that are the most effective with the chosen music.
“We watch it a thousand times and then a thousand more. There are many clips that you get very sad about cutting, but there is a lot of noise out on the internet. To rise above it and get the attention of Millennials and GenZ’s, you really have to know how to dance while trying to poke a very big bear.”
They succeeded, however; its three minutes of captioned footage begin with a countdown of days without a school shooting and the label “WARNING: This video will change you.”
The clips, accompanied by the haunting instrumental piece, feature everything from presidents gravely addressing school shootings, one after the other, to interviews with relatives of victims and survivors themselves. As the song builds to its crescendo, about halfway through the video the words “This is not a movie. This is real life,” jump out against a black screen.
And as the Duggers hoped, #AwakenDawn did capture the attention of the internet and its younger denizens; not only was the video viewed hundreds of thousands of times in the first 12 hours after it went up on Twitter, it’s also been making the rounds via various social media platforms.
Household names such as actors Tom Arnold and Devon Sawa and This is Us director Ken Olin retweeted the video, urging everyone to view the difficult footage. MSNBC aired the full three minutes last week at the end of one of its programmes.
“We hope this video achieves EXACTLY what it did!” the Duggers tell The Independent. “It made mainstream news. The Big Names were sharing it online. The president came out the next day and made a speech. It was a wave that was cresting in the American narrative and nothing was going to stop it.
“A dialogue had been opened. A dialogue between the left and right in a political age where we as Americans won’t even talk to our neighbor if they voted differently in the last election. Both sides can now look at each other and agree: We have to save the kids. They are our future.”
As parents themselves, they’ve seen childhood and family life change as mass shootings seemingly become ever-more frequent in the headlines.
“We both have adult children who have grown up this way,” the Duggers write. “Amid the mass shootings, school lockdowns, increased violence and the erosion of their personal safety. There was a high school in our neighborhood that had a shooting and that REALLY changed the kids. We had one middle-schooler and one high-schooler at the time. We had A LOT of family talks about what to do.
“It’s a helluva thing talking to your 11-year-old about how to hide or find an exit when you start hearing gunshots. Everywhere we go as a family, we talk about an exit plan if things go sideways. What makes us the most angry is this has become a normal operating procedure for American families who just want to go to the mall. The movies. A concert. Anywhere. It can happen anywhere.”
That’s why they hope viral content such as #AwakenDawn can really grab the attention of younger generations.
“The culture today is young,” the filmmakers say. “Millennials and GenZ’s outnumber all of us and they only communicate digitally. As GenX’ers who grew up at the height of American consumerism amid the young narrative of MTV and then the birth of reality television in the 90s, it is our responsibility to use what we know to communicate with them.
“We have to use film, music, social, all of it to get them involved in politics. They grew up in the age of school shootings and cyberbullying and single-parent homes. Much like GenX’ers, they’ve been left to their own literal devices and they’ve observed this entire time how the custodians of the American social construct have mishandled generation after generation.
“They have really felt either hopeless or indifferent to it all because it seems that those in charge are indifferent as well. If we have any hope as a country to thrive and succeed, we have to get the kids to care. WE have to care.”
Something about the Uvalde atrocity, they say, “DOES feel different” and seems to have connected in a particularly powerful way with Americans.
“When the Uvalde shooting happened, it felt like a dam had split a crack,” they write. “THIS TIME something would be done.
“The ages of these little ones. The small size of the town. EVERYONE in Uvalde will be scarred for the rest of their lives. That weighs heavy on the average American. We’re ALL Uvalde. As a nation, we are ALL tired of waking up to ANOTHER violent mass casualty event. We all see it. Almost every day.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. And both the left and the right are understanding that Americans are done with big lobbies and corporations raking in millions while our kids suffer.
They add: “The children are bearing the brunt of this dysfunction in leadership. The power of our vote is a palpable thing this cycle and the kids who grew up with all this happening to them are now of voting age or will be.
“That is something to consider as a politician weighs their ability to be re-elected.”
At the end of #AwakenDawn, the Duggers sum up their motivation for the video.
“Eleven Films was not paid in any way to make this film,” the final lines of text read. “It was our duty.”
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