Bully: Documentary Looks at Kids Under Attack at School

“Bully” — Heartbreaking Look at Kids Under Daily Attack at School
By Mark R. Gould

Over 13 million American kids will be bullied this year, making it the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the nation. The new documentary film BULLY, brings human scale to this startling statistic, offering an intimate, unflinching look at how bullying has touched five kids and their families.The film was written and produced by Amherst Regional High School graduate Cynthia Lowen, the daughter of Ralph and Mary Ann Lowen of Amherst. Ms. Lowen will appear in person at two screenings of the film at Amherst Cinema on April 22. 

Ms. Lowen is an award-winning writer and recipient of the Discovery Prize, and coauthor of The Essential Guide to Bullying forthcoming from Alpha Books.

The film was directed by Sundance and Emmy-award winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch, a Hampshire College graduate.

Filmed over the course of the 2009 - 2010 school year, BULLY opens a window onto the pained and often endangered lives of bullied kids, revealing a problem that transcends geographic, racial, ethnic and economic borders. From 12-year-old Alex of Sioux City, Iowa who endures physical and mental taunts in an ongoing struggle to “fit in,” to 16-year-old athlete Kelby of Tuttle, OK who is shunned by classmates, teammates and faculty alike when she comes out as a lesbian. In Yazoo County, Mississippi, 14-year-old Ja’Meya faces incarceration after brandishing a loaded handgun to scare off her tormentors. Tragically, both the Long family of Murray County, GA and the Smalley family of Perkins, OK have survived the loss of their bullied children to suicide, and continue to reach out to the surrounding communities for accountability and understanding.

Documenting the responses of teachers and administrators to aggressive behaviors that defy “kids will be kids” clichés, BULLY captures a growing movement among parents and youths to change how bullying is handled in schools, in communities and in society as a whole.

Ms. Lowen will speak at both the 2:45pm and 7:15pm screenings on Sunday, April 22 at Amherst Cinema. She often speaks about her experiences producing BULLY, which has sparked a nationwide social action campaign, The Bully Project, in partner with the Creative Visions Foundation.

Tickets are regular admission. The film will be at Amherst Cinema through May 3. Tickets for April 20 – 26 showings are available for purchase at the Amherst Cinema box office or online http://www.amherstcinema.org

Advance ticket purchase for Ms. Lowen’s appearances on April 22 is recommended.

‘The documentary “Bully” is opening in theaters throughout the country. If you have seen any of the clips from the film, you will know that it is a heartbreaking look at the lives of students who are harassed and attacked on a daily basis at school. The youngsters in the documentary attend schools in Georgia, Iowa, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma. The film focuses on the deaths of Tyler Long and Ty Smalley, victims of bullying who took their own lives.

Journalist Kate Snow on MSNBC.com writes, “If you plan to see the movie ‘Bully,’ don’t make the same mistake I did. Bring tissues. Lots. I didn’t just shed a tear when I attended a NY screening of the film last week, I cried through most of the movie. So did my husband. So did most people in the theater.

You can see Kate Snow’s report about bullying on “NBC Nightly News.”

Kenneth Turan in the “Los Angeles Times,” writes,:”If you feel like you’ve already read quite a bit about the documentary ‘Bully,’ you have. But that still won’t prepare you for the experience of seeing it.”

Democratic congresswoman Linda Sanchez (Calif.) hopes the film will raise awareness about bullying in schools across the country.

She is a sponsor for the “Safe Schools Improvement Act”, bi-partisan legislation designed to prevent students from being bullied and harassed. The legislation would ban bullying, collect information on harassment, and provide technical assistance to school districts. Sanchez also introduced the “Put School Counselors where They’re Needed Act,” which creates additional funding for secondary counselors in troubled schools, in an effort to reduce drop out rates. Read more at Foxnews.com.

“Bully” has been in the news a lot lately because it received a restrictive R rating (for a small amount of bad language) and then chose to go into theaters unrated. Its distributor, Weinstein Co., made that choice because the film’s subject matter, the pervasiveness of school-related bullying and what can be done about it, would seem to cry out for a high school age and younger audience. And “Bully” has an emotional impact that must be viewed to be understood.”

“Filmmaker, Lee Hirsch, a victim of bullying, told “NBC News,” “It’s a very personal film. I was bullied when I was a kid. So it’s like that project that you carry with you in your pocket and you say, ‘One day I’m gonna make this film when I have the guts and I have the courage.’”

In the film, one victim of bullying said, “They push me so far that I want to become the bully.” At one point during filming, Hirsch was so worried about a young man’s safety; he provided video evidence to the school and the boy’s parents.

And the victim of bullying said, “I didn’t tell them (my parents) what was going on, which was my mistake. “I should have told someone. I wish I would have told someone. But I didn’t until Lee (Hirsch) came along.”

The boy’s father says participating in the film meant a lot to their family. “Before it started he was in a deep place that we just couldn’t reach him – and Lee and the film and the whole process has just kind of brought him out of that darkness and broke him out of his shell and gave us our son back,” he said.

In the “Chicago Sun-Times,” Roger Ebert writes about the rating battle over the film, “Bully,” which is being released without a rating: “The power behind the ‘F’ word, which appears to be the sticking point in lowering it from an ‘R’ to a ‘PG-13’, and the flawed system of the MPAA. By making the film ‘R’ rated, fewer young people—the audience the film is trying to reach—would be less likely to be able to watch the film in theaters.”

According to Ebert, “If a director wants to make a film against bullying, it is not for a committee of MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America.) bean-counters to tell him what words he can use. Not many years ago, the word rape was not used in newspapers, on television–or in the movies, for that matter. But there is a crime, and the name of the crime is rape, and if you remove the word you help make the crime invisible.

“This is yet another example of the MPAA sidestepping ethical judgments by falling back on the technicalities of its guidelines. It is even more insidious because the MPAA never clearly spells out its guidelines, leaving it to filmmakers to guess–although they often judge by past experience. It seems to me that either the f-word word is permissible, or it is not. If impermissible, nobody should use it at all in a PG-13 film. If permissible, nobody should count. Is it a magic word, a totemistic expression that dare not say its own name? Is it a vulgar equivalent of such a word as G-d?”

On March 26, 2012, The Weinstein Company announced that it would release “Bully” unrated, in protest at the MPAA’s decision. This effectively restricts the movie to art-house and independently owned theaters as AMC, Cinemark, and many other American cinema chains have policies against screening unrated films, although the former announced it would allow minors to watch the film upon receipt of a signed permission slip from a parent or guardian. Regal Cinemas did indicate they would play the film, however, it  would treat it as R rated.

“Bully” premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. It was also screened at the Festival and the LA Film Festival.

Hirsch  approached the non-profit organization Fractured Atlas, which gave him partial funding for the film. Significant additional funding was provided by Sundance Institute Documentary Fund, The Fledgling Fund, BeCause Foundation and Gravity Films.

During a screening in Minneapolis in September 2011, Hirsch told the audience about his experiences.”I felt that the hardest part of being bullied was communicating,” Hirsch said. “And getting help. I couldn’t enroll people’s support. People would say things like ‘get over it,’ even my own father and mother. They weren’t with me. That was a big part of my wanting to make the film. It’s cathartic on a daily basis.”

Hirsch hopes the film grows far beyond him, inspiring advocacy, engagement, and empowerment not just in people who are being bullied and in their families, but by those of us who all too often stand by and do nothing. He stated, “I hope we build something that’s really sustainable. I hope this takes on a life of its own.”

J. Halterman interviewed Bully director Hirsch on AfterEllen.com.

AE: What do you think it is that has people so behind this movie before many of them have even seen it?

Lee Hirsch: I think this is the time for bullying. I think that this is the moment where people have just had enough and there’s enough pro-active steam behind this issue that hasn’t had a voice and people haven’t had an outlet for it. It’s a thing that touches everybody whether you were bullied or whether you were a bystander. There’s a real need and people are sick of it so they want to make change happen and there’s so much great, organic stuff that’s happening like [Michigan high school junior] Katy Butler’s petition and certainly the support from Ellen [DeGeneres] has been extraordinary. That’s my best take on it.

AE: Up to this point, what has been the biggest surprise for you? I mean, did you expect any of this to blow up the way that it has?

No, I certainly didn’t. I knew there was a need for the film. I knew that this was something that hadn’t been a movie [and] that had really spoken to this experience this way before. Certainly this is beyond my wildest imagination.

AE: How much of a challenge was it to not intervene when you were filming?

LH: It was but ultimately we did intervene. We intervened in a very significant way with Alex’s family and the school. Alex and I had talked a lot about what he was going through and what was happening and he knew that I had his back and that really mattered in those moments.

AE: With all the different instances that you saw and different people you talked to — and this may be a naïve question — why are some kids bullied and some kids are not? Is there even an answer to that?

LH: I don’t know that there is an answer to that. I think some kids are better able to deflect it and make it stop than others. There’s not a particular rhyme or reason that I understand.

AE: You’ve stayed in touch with the families and the kids but what did you hear from them after they saw the film?
LH: Boy, the families have just been extraordinary. It’s been wonderful having them with us on this journey. They are the heart of this movie and the heart that beats in this movie and their honesty — they are all just very, very special and sort of my second family now so it’s been amazing.

Read the rest of the interview at Afterellen.com.

Online Resources

Visit your local library for resources on this important topic.

Originally published by the American Library Association (CCL). Reprinted with permission.

One Comment on “Bully: Documentary Looks at Kids Under Attack at School

  1. if the makers of Bully REALLY wanted to reach as many kids as possible, MAKE IT FREE!

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