Oscar-nominated animated short If Anything Happens I Love You follows two parents grieving the loss of their child in a school shooting, and while it was conceived three years ago by writers and directors Will McCormack and Michael Govier, the short — produced independently with Gilbert Films and available on Netflix — remains sadly relevant.
“It never went away,” admits Govier of the subject of gun violence. “I think that’s the saddest thing for us. We are constantly just thinking about the parents, the friends, the relatives, the loved ones that are lost. People should be safe going to the grocery store, going to school, just living their everyday lives… And I think that the fact that we keep having these huge conversations is incredibly sad and I just constantly grieve and feel sorry for all of the lives that are lost. And one life is too many.”
“I think, inexorably, the film does get discussed in a political way because it’s become a political issue, but that was never really our intention,” adds McCormick. “We just wanted to make a human story and we wanted to show what grief and loss looks like. I think unfortunately when these tragedies happen, people talk about the death more than the life. As storytellers, the way that we approached this was this was our artistic rant on what’s happening in America… I think the story lends an intimacy to these types of issues that sometimes the news can never reach.”
In the film’s use of animation, the parents are followed by shadows of themselves, “visualizations of what you look like when you’re trying to connect to your own grief,” Govier says. “Sometimes when you have trauma that acute, you kind of feel outside of yourself and it was kind of to show what’s going on inside is not what’s going on outside. You’re kind of shutting down a little bit, but you still have all these huge, big feelings that you’re wrestling with and trying to come to terms with.”
To convey grief, the film is made largely with black-and-white and muted tones though “towards the end of the film where you see more love and compassion and caring come into the film, you get warmer, brighter tones. They kind of show the sheer amount of love and hope that I feel is in the film,” Govier explains.
At the point in the short when gunshots are heard, the viewer only sees a school room door with an American flag — the only element in color — hanging over those doors. “The flag is a representation of what a lot of schools look like,” Govier explains, adding that it could mean several things. “Schools are supposed to be safe [and this says] a safe place is becoming unsafe. When we grew up, the worst thing we ever had was a fire drill. They have active shooter drills now in a lot of these schools and that’s a new level of trauma.”
Govier adds, “Also, inherently, it’s an American problem… and that’s why it’s based in America.”
In making the short, the helmers also reached out to Everytown for Gun Safety — a nonprofit that advocates for gun control — to be sure that the film would be sensitive to the topic. The organization also connected them with survivors who contributed by sharing their stories.
After the short was released, the directors heard from more survivors, including some affected by the shootings in Parkland, Aurora and Sandy Hook. “People ask them ‘what it’s like,’ ” says Govier, adding, “one of the survivors said, ‘now I can say, go watch this film.'”