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PBS' "Independent Lens" (8 p.m., PBS/Ch. 7) offers an incredibly emotional experience tonight, reliving the events of "Newtown" — one of the nation's worst mass shootings.

In December 2012, a 20-year-old man suffering from mental illness walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered 20 first graders and six adults before killing himself. He had previously killed his own mother.

Director/producer Kim A. Snyder has crafted a powerful documentary, which debuted at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

"I was interested in looking at collective grief and that process of resilience," she said, "and really wanted to break through desensitization that was growing as more and more of these were happening."

She gained the trust of the families of the victims, who pour out their hearts.

"I think the thing about Kim that was different in the way she earned our trust was that she is so genuine and so authentic and didn't have a preconceived agenda," said Nicole Hansen, whose young son, Dylan, was among the victims. "And that was absolutely critical in earning trust."

"Newtown" is not an easy film to watch, but it's an important one — for the families of the victims, for other residents of Newtown, and for viewers.

"There is an element of therapy that comes through this in trying to explain to others what happened and talking about it," Hansen said. "But also in the hopes that it can help someone else through their grief or potentially understanding it from a different perspective."

If you don't shed a few tears watching "Newtown" — well, you've got a very hard heart.

Yes, the families of the victims have worked to strengthen gun laws in the wake of this tragedy. The shooter bought the weapons he used to murder children legally, despite his mental illness.

"When some of the victims came in, we we tried our best and were unsuccessful," said Bill Begg, an emergency-room doctor who was on duty when the shootings took place. "But some of us, including myself, found that as a turning point that going forward we would try our best to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening."

"We hope the film can open dialogue and bolster those aggregate voices of teachers and policemen and maybe voices that are less heard and do something bottom up on a grassroots level," said Snyder.

And while there are certainly elements that reject any sort of gun restrictions — even for the mentally ill — it's a powerful thing to watch parents whose first-graders were shot to death in their classroom by a man who clearly should not have had access to weapons.

"I'm human, just like everybody else," Hansen said. "I get incredibly angry. And in the film, I talk about that I'm not in a space of forgiveness. I will not forgive the shooter, and I don't forgive his mother for giving him access to the weapons. And that's an issue that is probably going to be with me for my life.

"However, I'm not interested in just being angry all the time, because that's a very negative energy. I'd rather put my energies into something positive that helps others."

They've made progress in Connecticut, although Congress has failed to act and the current occupant of the White House has made it clear he opposes gun restrictions.

But Hansen is among those who talk about "a long term vision" for gun legislation, and they're not going away.

"I don't want to fight, I want to win," she said. "And that's what I'm going to keep focused on — the win, not the fights along the way."

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