I visited the Pulse Nightclub memorial in Orlando one year after the massacre. My husband and I were driving to our new home in upstate New York after living in Miami for three years, and even though I have dissected the events of that night over and over again, I was struck by how small Pulse was. It felt strange to be in a place where so much senseless violence took place. In Maris Curran’s sensitive documentary, Jeannette, one woman is still reconciling the events of June 12, 2016 as she is determined to live a stronger life forward.
“I will never, ever forget seeing the barrel of the gun,” are the first words we hear from Jeannette Feliciano, a woman who went to Pulse to dance her night away with some friends. “You felt the rumbling, the heat…I was one of the targets,” she says. It feels like we are further away from Pulse than we actually are (this year was only the six year anniversary), but America has just endured so many mass shootings since that night that it feels that way.
A lot of time is spent at the gym where Feliciano works as a personal trainer and instructor. The way she motivates her students and classes will make you want to get out of your chair and do something physical. There is a constant sense of motion from Feliciano as we watch her teach and train for bodybuilding competitions. She lives at home with her teenage son, and we see her family grapple with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. “My mentality went right back to Pulse,” Feliciano says later in the film.
Feliciano’s strength (both physical and mental) is awe-inspiring. After we see headlines and news reports of raging violence, the chatter fades away until the next senseless act. What happens to those who escaped with their lives? There is an immediate sense of wanting to do something to help survivors not feel alone or make them feel like we have moved on from their experiences of pain. It would’ve been easy for Curran to keep us at a distance from Feliciano’s story, but it feels very immediate in how her subject connects with us an audience.
In order to grapple with tragedy, we need to work our mental health and communication like a muscle. Jeannette is the story of one woman’s survival, but there are thousands across this troubled country that we must listen to. How do we move on from senseless tragedy, and how do we not leave others behind?
Jeannette plays in person and virtually as part of Outfest’s documentary feature program.