HARTFORD, Conn. — Tain Gregory lost a friend in the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school. Jimmy Greene lost a daughter.
The role the arts have played in helping both on their journeys through grief and toward healing is explored in a “Midsummer in Newtown,” a documentary debuting Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
The film follows the staging of “A Rockin’ Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, which was put on in Newtown by Broadway professionals during the summer of 2014 using children from the community.
It focuses on two of the young local actors, Gregory and a girl named Sammy Vertucci, who find the play’s themes of love helping to restore order from chaos reflected in their own lives.
A separate track follows Greene as he creates his album “Beautiful Life,” to honor his daughter Ana Grace, while his wife, Nelba Marquez-Greene, creates a foundation to help troubled children.
“It’s about people finding ways to move forward,” said director Lloyd Kramer.
The film is the second major documentary this year about the Newtown shooting, in which a gunman killed 20 schoolchildren, six educators, his mother and finally himself.
Marquez-Greene said they choose to be part of “Midsummer in Newtown” because it allowed them to tell their story the way they wanted it told. That includes a moment when she stops being angry at her husband, a well-known jazz saxophonist, for not joining her as a political activist in Washington, D.C., pushing for new laws.
“It was very powerful for me when I heard his music to realize that this was not only his way to fight, but his way to continue to be a dad,” she said.
Filmmakers say they chose to debut the documentary at Tribeca because of the festival’s history. It was created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks as a way for the arts to help heal the community in New York.
Sophfronia Scott Gregory, Tain’s mother, said she hopes people see her son come out of his shell in the film and understand the healing power the play had on her family.
For Tain, she said, being part of the production became a microcosm of his part in a community dealing with stress. He and others used the safe space of the theater community to overcome their fears, learn to trust and be vulnerable again.
He cries when the production is over. His mother said that was a good thing, because it meant that he missed something he loved and began to understand feelings that went far beyond the play. “It’s always OK to love,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of the pain. The pain is going to go away at some point, but the love is going to stay.”
Kramer said they were very careful in the film not to make it about closure, or good coming from evil or happy endings. Because, he said, the truth in Newtown is not that simplistic.
Instead, he said the movie is about the journey, what Jimmy Greene describes as a search to reflect love and beauty “through all the trauma and the horror that we’ve been through.”
“You can’t choose what happens to you in this life in a lot of ways, but you can choose how you respond to it,” Greene says near the movie’s end.