Monday, June 20, 2011

LA Film Festival: 'The Bully Project' Review

Well, friends, "The Bully Project" is a difficult but important film to watch.

The documentary, directed by Lee Hirsch and which screened as a free community screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival yesterday, follows several children and families who have been affected by bullying at school.

Opening on the face of a father whose 17-year-old son took his own life because of the constant torment he faced inside and outside of the classroom, we see the hurt, devastation and incredulity of a parent who thought his child was protected once he entered the public school grounds.

Alex, 14; Sioux City, Iowa

There are more similar stories -- one boy in Sioux City, Iowa, (pictured above) whose head is pounded into the seat in front of him on the school bus by another boy (on camera!); a girl in Tuttle, Okla., who came out of the closet only to have students (and teachers!) degrade her in the classroom; and a girl in rural Mississippi who finally had enough of the bullying and brought a gun onto a bus to protect herself -- an act that sent her to juvenile hall for months.

As an audience, we see these frustrated families who get nowhere with administrators. The administrators (again, on camera!) alternately pass the buck, ignore the problem and even blame the victim.

In one mystifying scene in particular, an administrator asks two boys to shake hands. When one boy doesn't want to shake hands with his bully, the administrator has the nerve to tell this tormented child that by not shaking hands, he's just as bad as the bully. Seriously.

While an audience might feel a little helpless, especially since most of us have left the schoolyard years ago, "The Bully Project" is also a film that inspires action.

In fact, one father in the film, Kirk Smalley, from Perkins, Okla., whose 11-year-old (11!) took his own life, has started an organization called Stand for the Silent. Smalley has spoken to more than 200 schools about bullying and has encouraged children to say, "I am somebody," a statement engraved on blue wristbands that were distributed after the screening.

As Hirsch mentioned after the film, we have all been exposed to bullying in some way. As a parent, I am already saddened by what CC might have to face at some point in her young life. What I can do, however, is build her self-esteem, support her and teach her to be kind to and understanding of others.

"The Bully Project," which will be distributed through The Weinstein Company, is also inviting people to join this grassroots movement to combat bullying. Click here for more information about how you can help.

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