A blending of Americana flashes across the screen in edgy, sun-faded clips — picture Southern Bayou meets Wild West; urban shooting range meets rural deer hunt; gun shop meets military installation. The voice of Julia Haltigan — a sweltering mélange of Nancy Sinatra and Karen O. — offers up a salty serenade to a James Bond-esque opening sequence. “The weight of it. The smell of it. It’s hard, hot, it explodes… It shoots things out...,” a woman explains with a fishy grin, her eyes a flicker. So opens Cathryne Czubek’s compelling new documentary, A Girl & A Gun, recently screened at the Sarasota Film Festival in Sarasota, Florida and coming to theaters and Video on Demand beginning July 3, 2013.

The “it” has nothing to do with a fleshy, pornographic prop and everything to do with a manmade piece of steel that has been the topic of fiery debates in the halls of Congress, at shooting ranges, on talk shows and around American kitchen tables on both sides of the political aisle long before the Newtown, Connecticut shooting massacre in December 2012. And yet, Czubek’s opening foreshadows what’s to come, for when discussing women and guns, it’s often difficult to separate the sexual from the sensible.

Behind the camera, Czubek is like a seasoned poet paring down her language with unadulterated precision. And for this filmmaker, the language is the voice of the female gun owner in America. An estimated 17 million American women own guns — a figure that doesn’t reflect the number of women living in households with guns. Bouncing back and forth from one location to the next (10 states in all), we embark on a road trip of sorts — an adult version of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. Just as soon as you think you’ve figured someone out, Czubek has you on the hunt once again trying to understand why her subjects own guns and how they live with them. But unlike the infamous villain of childhood gameplay, the women in A Girl & A Gun, with the exception of one, are anything but criminals, and their reasons for owning guns — nostalgia, empowerment, sex appeal, father-daughter bonding, and for more than a few, fear — are as varied as their backgrounds.

Be forewarned. If you seek a gun film to support your political views or negate them, this isn’t the movie for you. Czubek respects her subject and her viewer far too much to spoon-feed anyone her personal beliefs on the merits or demerits of gun ownership in America. What makes A Girl & A Gun stand out from other “gun movies” — be it Michael Moore’s documentary, Bowling for Columbine (2002), an unabashed attempt to shame the National Rifle Association into hanging up its fatigues, or Arek Avelino’s American Gun (2005), a fictionalized portrait of families impacted by guns — is the absence of politics, sentimentality and anger. It is a film that, remarkably, has no political agenda.

And oh, how refreshing!

Czubek, shy about her creative genius yet effervescent in her passion for the women she portrays, intentionally sought to “strip the politics” from her film:

“I felt what was missing from gun conversations today is everything but the politics. There is no human face to our gun culture — just extremes. As soon as you portray one side, it sends the people right out of the picture. Your average citizen is not an activist on the left or right on a daily basis. Once you humanize an issue, you can understand the people behind the issue.”

Unlike many contemporary documentaries that stake out a position based on (ir)refutable facts offered by countless talking heads — be their subject matter fast food, the military industrial complex, the socialism of America or the welfare state — Czubek’s film is based on emotions. And her talking heads are those of women you might meet in line at the grocery store, at your kid’s P.T.A. meeting, or on your afternoon subway commute. It is in their ordinariness — meant here in the most respectful of terms — that the voices of female American gun owners are heard and, yes, better understood.

A Girl & A Gun is a slow and deliberate, quick and witty, insightful and confounding work of art that is sure to send some women to the shooting range and others to cringe in their seats. If there were one criticism, it would be how short it seems (and is, at 75 minutes). With over 500 hours of footage, Czubek did a fine job of choosing her subjects and holding tight to their unfolding storylines, but identification with her subjects happens quickly here, and you wish you were settling in for a Proustian journey… Yet in the blink of an eye, they are gone. And as the film’s credits roll, you wish for another glimpse into the life of one or two or three of her subjects.

It wasn’t a film she set out to make. And frankly, that’s why it’s so authentic.

Years ago, Czubek, also a professional photographer, was on location at a shooting range taking photos of young girls participating in an afterschool program. One inquisitive shooter asked, “Have you ever shot a gun?” Czubek, recoiling at the notion, offered a tepid, “No”; “well, how can you take pictures of us shooting guns, if you’ve never shot one yourself?” asked her youthful subject. (Children, yet untainted by the constraints of polite society, can be oh so honest.)

Czubek, twice the age of the little girl shooting a weapon three times her size, found she couldn’t deny such a request and agreed to try it out. But as Czubek explains, she had difficulty — in fact, a lot of difficulty — with her first shot, “When you fire a gun for the first time, you realize there is a potential for harm. Some people don’t want to know they are capable of such power.” Czubek credits the girl and her Lilliputian sharpshooters for helping her find the strength to finally pull the trigger and ultimately leading her on a journey upon which she might never have embarked. After 10 years in the making, her film, A Girl & A Gun, adds a much needed voice to America’s discussion on its love/hate relationship with guns.

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