Philadelphia Film Society (click to read PFS member's comments on this film) hosted a preview screening of Bully, formerly called The Bully Project. Which actually was screened in October during the 20th Philadelphia Film Festival, but I, and many others didn't pay it much attention. It deserves attention.
Director/Writer/Producer/Cinematographer Lee Hirschwho was bullied throughout his childhood, wanted to make a film that would give voice to kids who deal with this torment on a daily basis. His camera follows the lives of 3 kids currently being tortured: verbally, mentally, physically, but oddly, only a mention is made of cyber bullying, which is so prevalent today. Hirsch also interviews two sets of parents grieving for the loss of their child, taken as a result of bullying.
I think we tend to think of children as being the best of ourselves, but in reality, children can be mean, vicious, and driven by fear. This film takes place in rural America, but you can go anywhere in the world, I imagine, and find kids picking on another kid, simply because that kid is a little off, weird, looks funny, has a disability, or just walks to the beat of their own drum. Most of the time, that weird kid doesn't bother anyone, they'd like to be accepted, but really they'd be okay if they were just left alone.Is Alex being treated well at school now with all this attention?
In this film, a 12 year-old named Alexis prominently featured. He was born a preemie, looks a little retarded and is just socially awkward. Before he can even make it to school he's being threatened, called names, fish face being the least harmful, poked, choked and humiliated. Why?
I think it's because our egos are so fragile, at any age, but particularly in our developmental stages, that many young people can't bear to witness weakness in their peers for fear it will make them have to examine their own self-image, weaknesses and insecurities. So they deflect those feelings out an onto an easy target.
It's excruciatingly painful to watch the victimized child; but I also feel sadness for the kids whose inner turmoil drives them to be cruel rather than compassionate. It's also so hard to watch the ineffectual parents, school faculty and law enforcement, who don't really listen to the kids, don't see the seriousness or simply don't know what to do about it. After all, bullying has been going on forever, perhaps it's getting more acute, and certainly, this film can and has establish a new dialog, but is there a solution?
I sat next to a woman during the screening who is lending her talents to help in this dilemma, her name is Andrea Brown, a school counselor who decided to create an organization called 21st Century Parenting which is positioning itself as a resource for parents faced with bullying, particularly cyber bullying.
A panel made up of educators, US Attorney's Office and a formerly bullied young adult gay male, spoke after the screening moderated by Good Day Philadelphia's Mike Jerrick. As always, the lighting sucks at these post Q & A screenings, but you can listen to what the panel and audience had to say - Bully Philly Panel Discussion
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