Tribeca 2015: Sandy Hook-Inspired Doc Isn't "Another Wrestling Match About Guns"

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
Abigail Disney

Abigail Disney's 'The Armor of Light' tells the story of an anti-abortion activist and preacher who strikes an unlikely alliance with a pro-choice woman challenging Florida's Stand Your Ground law in the wake of her son's murder.

A version of this story first appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Abigail Disney, 55, the New York-based philanthropist (and grand-niece of Walt) who established herself as a prolific documentary producer with Pray the Devil Back to Hell in 2008, wasn't looking to move into directing. "I didn't really have time to direct," she admits. But then the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting happened.

"I had wanted to do a project related to the gun culture in our country for a long time, but I thought I could wait — until Sandy Hook said to me, 'You can't wait any longer.' That's what kicked me into motion," she explains. The challenge, though, was finding a particular focus for a film that could speak to both sides in what had become a deeply polarized debate.

"Gun films have a way of preaching to the choir," Disney says. "I think no single class of documentary does it more than films about guns because it's such an emotional, polarized subject; but I didn't want to be polarizing. I keep using gun metaphors — it's a weird thing that happens when you talk about guns — but one of the things that really triggered me was the perception out there that a Stand Your Ground law gives you the right to shoot a person in self-defense. You've actually always had that right. What's different about a Stand Your Ground law is that it relieves you of what has been called for centuries, since the Magna Carta, the 'duty to retreat' from that conflict if there is any opportunity to do so. That is the kind of moral discourse that we aren't having, which seems to be really important."

Determined to find someone in the pro-life world "who would put their weapons down, come to an armistice and be willing to talk in good faith," she discovered, after months of searching, Rev. Rob Schenck, a prominent anti-abortion activist. "Rob was the first minister I talked with who had the courage to say, 'Wait a minute. This is a problem. And I need to step into it.'" Then, by accident, Disney says, she learned of Lucy McBath, a pro-choice woman challenging Florida's Stand Your Ground law in the wake of her son's murder. The result is The Armor of Light, debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 19, which traces the unlikely alliance that develops between Schenck and McBath.

After working on the film for two years, Disney says she and Schenck "actually developed quite a strong friendship, which was a surprise to me and a really interesting part of the process." As for her hopes for the finished film, she says,"I didn't want to invite people to yet another wrestling match about guns. The goal was to make a film that respected evangelicals and respected their point of view. It's not like this film doesn't have a point of view about guns, a point of view about the NRA. I'm not pulling any punches. But I didn't want to be disrespectful. I didn't want to be snarky. I didn't want to trick anybody into an interview and make them look bad. I wanted everybody's point of view to stand on their own merits. And I wanted us to do the moral homework about gun control that this country hasn't done."