documentary

“Bully” Hits the Big Screen

March 29, 2012 at 2:32 pm , by

Have you heard about Bully? The documentary, which opens in select cities this week, follows kids and their families as they experience the devastation of being, well, bullied. After Bully received an R rating by the MPAA, the filmmakers are now releasing the movie without a rating, so individual theater owners can rate the documentary themselves. “The small amount of language in the film that’s responsible for the R rating is there because it’s real,” says Bully director Lee Hirsch. “It’s what children who are victims of bullying face on most days.”

We talked to Hirsch about the film—and why for some parents and kids, it might be the most important movie they see this year.

LHJ: Why make a documentary about bullying?

Lee: I was bullied myself as a kid. I felt like I could give a voice to that experience, not just for the 12-year-old me but also for all the people who are going through it today.

LHJ: What shocked you most while filming this movie?

Lee: The physical bullying didn’t surprise me because I remember going through that myself all too well. But I was surprised by just how many people are struggling with this issue. When you’re being bullied you think you’re alone and you don’t have a voice. This film is helping band people together who’ve had this experience—whether they had it themselves, or its something their kid sister is going through. There’s not one family that bullying doesn’t touch.

LHJ: Why aren’t teachers and school administrators doing more to solve this problem?

Lee: I screened the movie for a group of administrators and one of them said to me afterwards, “To be honest, not one of us hasn’t gotten it wrong at some time.” But for me, the point is not to create division or fault. Instead, it’s to create an important conversation for educators to have about the value of social and emotional learning, about teaching empathy. I’d love to see school climates considered to be just as important as test scores and athletic victories.

LHJ: What advice do you have for parents whose kids are being bullied? 

Lee: I encourage your readers to visit our website where we have resources for victims of bullying. Parents should know that it’s your right to make sure your kid is not being bullied. If the teachers are not being responsive, you have to go to the principle, the superintendent, the school board, the office of civil rights, the local media. Just keep fighting. Some parents feel like they can’t win and they pull their kids out of school. But the most important thing is to let your kid know you’re fighting for them.

To learn more about Bully and what to do if your child is being bullied, go to www.thebullyproject.com.


Can’t-Miss Documentary: A Small Miracle

July 9, 2010 at 8:00 am , by

Can a small act of kindness really make a difference?  Yes, if you listen to the story of  Chris Mburu, the subject of the inspiring documentary, A Small Act, which premieres July 12 on HBO. Chris grew up in Kenya—with little hope for a future beyond coffee picking—until a Swedish pre-school teacher named Hilde Back stepped into his life. Hilde and Chris never met, but she sponsored his education, sending him a few dollars each month to pay for his school.  Thanks to Hilde, Chris went on to do great things: graduating from Harvard Law School and becoming a human rights activist.

To honor his “angel,” Chris started the Hilde Back Education Fund in 2003, so other bright yet disadvantaged Kenyan students could have a chance at a better life. The film not only shows the first meeting between Hilde and Chris, it also follows three gifted students—Kimani, a high spirited boy, Ruth, a shy yet quietly ambitious girl, and her beautiful yet brainy friend, Caroline, as they compete for the one Hilde Back scholarship that will determine their fate. The results are both uplifting and heartbreaking (keep tissues handy).

“When I started making this film, I kept thinking, I’d like to do good in the world, but I’m not Gandhi and I’m not Mother Theresa. I have a full-time job. What can I do?” says the film’s director, Jennifer Arnold, 39. “But after making the movie, I learned you can do something small. You might think it won’t make a difference, but there’s someone out there it will touch, and that person will touch someone else. All of us have the power to make a difference.”

So moved were audiences members at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where the documentary premiered, that they handed over checks and cash to Arnold, to go to the Hilde Back Foundation. “We raised $90,000 in ten days,” says Arnold. “And recently, one person donated $250,000 after watching the film. Because of donations like that, now hundreds of kids will be able to go to school.”

As Hilde Back says, “If you do something good, it can spread in circles, like rings on the water.”  Watch the trailer after the jump, or learn more about the Hilde Back Foundation and make a donation at ASmallAct.com.

- Susan Pocharski

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