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Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down Tells a Remarkable Story of Recovery

Julie Cohen and Betsy West have made documentaries about RBG, Julia Child, Pauli Murray and now the former Arizona congresswoman



The new documentary Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down, directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, details the remarkable recovery of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords after she was shot in the head in an attempted assassination in 2011.

Cohen and West, who have previously collaborated on documentaries about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Julia Child, spoke with TIME about their new film, which chronicles Giffords’s arduous recovery and transformation into an advocate for gun reform after she was shot in the head.

TIME: Have you noticed any similarities between RBG, Julia Child, and Pauli Murray, just to name a few of the inspiring women whose lives you’ve chronicled in your films?

Cohen: Insight, drive, a refusal to give up no matter the odds, and an unwavering belief in the future are all characteristics shared by the four people we profile in our documentary. We also believe it’s significant that all four were devoted music and art fans with loving, supportive significant others.


What makes Gabby so special?

West: When you first meet Gabby Giffords, you’ll notice that she has a brilliant, welcoming smile. Despite having the language disability aphasia, she is a classic “people person,” finding ways to communicate with everyone she meets. Some kind words, a nice action, and lots of hugs. Claudia, her stepdaughter, says that Gabby “can talk to you through her touch and her love.” Consider it a present.

Keep reading: Lessons Learned from Gabby Giffords and the Minimal Progress We’ve Made Regarding Gun Control

How many mass shootings occurred while you were filming this?


Cohen: Data matching from the Gun Violence Archive There were about 1,100 mass shootings in the United States during the roughly 20 months we worked on Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down. At least four people (not including the shooter) must be shot for it to be considered a mass shooting, according to the National Crime Information Center’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The word “sobering” would be an understatement in this case.

If gun control reform in America is even possible, how do Gabby and her team keep their optimism?

West: When considering how to end the epidemic of gun violence in the United States, Gabby and her team are taking the long view. After the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, she launched her anti-gun violence organization and has since helped build a movement of Americans fighting for reasonable gun laws supported by the majority of Americans. Gabby, who is a gun owner herself, has been particularly effective at getting red flag laws and other gun safety legislation passed at the state level by appealing to gun owners and even NRA members. After years of effort, Gabby and her allies finally succeeded in passing the first federal gun control legislation in nearly three decades last month. It was a small change, but now that the “boyfriend loophole” has been closed and universal background checks for people aged 18-21 have been implemented, Gabby is hopeful that this protection can be extended to the general public.

Regular impromptu performances of show tunes are a particular highlight of Gabby’s personality, which we all greatly appreciate. Did any of the crew join in?


Cohen: We did that, and we did it quite often. At some point, one of us or the team as a whole would begin singing along with Gabby. Actually, it’s hard to say no to. The most notable event occurred after Gabby finished filming a scene in which she rides a recumbent bike through her Tucson neighborhood while listening to a mix from Siriux XM’s “80s on 8.” After we finished filming and were back in Gabby’s driveway, she inquired as to our preferred musical genres. Betsy brought up the Beatles, and immediately Gabby, along with the directors, producers, cinematographers, sound people, and drone operator, broke out into an impromptu, joyful rendition of “Eight Days a Week.”

The TIME Studios and Kino Lorber co-presented film Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is now playing in theaters across the country.