TCFF 2011 Day 1: The Bully Project Review

The TCFF has landed! I’m very excited to be a part of the film fest in my city [the best one IMO] in its second year. Great to see the ICON cinema at the West End all abuzz last night, I really LOVE this place and I’m so glad they’re sponsoring TCFF this year. The theater was packed which is always nice to see.

Just as last year TCFF opened with a well-made education-themed documentary with an important message, Waiting for Superman, this year we’ve got an equally compelling one with The Bully Project.

Any way you look at it, bullying is just plain wrong. There are no ifs or buts, the bully behavior of people putting down others, harassing them both physically or mentally to the point of affecting that person’s well-being has no excuse in this world. I say people because bullying could happen at any age, basically it’s a form of intimidation. The Bully Project focuses the behavior mainly in schools, from grade schools to high school.

Director Lee Hirsch was part of an hour-long panel held about an hour before the film was shown. He was joined by panelists that include Tom Weber (MPR Reporter), Rep. Jim Davnie (MN State Legislator who co-sponsored anti-bullying legislation), Julie Hertzog (Director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center) and Leigh Combs (Representing  MN School OUTreach Coalition).

It really was an eye opening discussion about a topic I’m not too familiar about. Not having grown up in the US, I’ve never experienced what it was like to be a student in America before college. Of course I’ve experienced a bit of racial intimidation (more out of ignorance, not malice IMO) as I went to a small town in MN where most of the population is Caucasian, but there were quite a few International students in my school so I was never bullied.

Lee Hirsch @ TCFF panel

A kid who’s been bullied will likely come out with some kind of disability.

It’s quite a strong statement from Mr. Hirsch, but I’d imagine it’s true. I mean, it may not be visible, but even a little bit of mental intimidation on a kid who’s already struggling with their identity can leave a scar for years. The biggest thing that came out of the panel for me is learning how Minnesota is still lacking on bullying law, reporter Tom Weber shared from his reporting that MN’s grade is C- amongst states that have such law, which is the lowest of all!

If you’re interested, you can view the panel discussion on this video posted on YouTube.

Now below is my review of the film. Just a note, I actually had a massive headache the entire time I was watching the film, I don’t know if it’s because of the way the camera movements or the fact that I sat a bit closer than I normally do in the theater. I don’t fault the filmmaker for this, but it certainly affect my enjoyment of watching this film.

My mini review of The Bully Project

Documentaries can be a powerful thing. Most documentarians usually set out to achieve a goal that is much bigger than simply trying to win an award or to make tons of money. Their goal is to assist or make change. With this film, Hirsch is shedding a light on a topic that is often brushed aside or simply not taken seriously enough. It’s mind-boggling to me after seeing that there are quite a number of kids actually commit suicide as a result of being bullied, and to me, even ONE kid, just one dying because of this should be a major cause of alarm for the school/legislation, what have you, to do something about it.

From a cinematic standpoint, this is not the most beautifully-filmed documentary I’ve ever seen [that honor belongs to The Cove]. There are some cinematic camera angles and such, but mostly it’s done in a matter-of-fact manner that make you focus on the subject matter and the people affected by it. In that sense it is very effective. It’s really heartbreaking to watch the kids filmed here, as well as the parents who lost their child, one as young as 11 years old!

One of the kids featured is Alex, who happens to be present at the screening with his whole family. This awkward teen was often punched, strangled, stabbed w/ pencils, etc. on the school bus. One kid whose face was blurred even threatened to kill him and inflict as much pain to him as possible. The mild-mannered boy had to endure this until finally, after his parents pressed him to confess, they realized what’s been happening to him. Here comes the infuriating part. The film shows how the schools, police and legislators just are not doing enough to fix this. There was a scene with a school official who put on a sympathetic front when the parents confront them but it’s obvious they didn’t and not going to do anything about it.

This film also offers a balance view that bullying happens to kids of all ages, color and sexual orientation. It seems that the topic is identified with the GLBT community as they’re perhaps the most outspoken and proactive about it, but the film shows that non-gay kids also suffer from bullying.

Alex & his family with Lee Hirsch – TCFF photo to come

During the Q&A, Hirsch revealed that this is a very tiny film-making project, mostly a crew of one or two (him and the producer) with a discreet looking Cannon camera that doesn’t look intimidating to people he’s filming. It is obvious this subject matter is close to his heart. Just from hearing his thoughtful answers during the panel and the way he interacted with Alex and his family on stage, he seemed genuinely care about these kids and that’s so gratifying to see. One question asked why there is no focus on the other side, the bullies themselves. Hirsch answered that it is his choice to tell the story of the side of the victims, and that bullies that he encountered seem like (in his own words) ‘little angels.’ Once you see this film, you’ll know what he meant.

I really hope this film will get recognition at the Oscars. Fortunately they have The Weinsteins Co. as a distributor and Hirsch said this film will be submitted to the Academy Awards. You know how it is about the Weinsteins with their Oscar campaign 🙂 Normally I’d be utterly cynical about it but y’know, if it means bringing The Bully Project movement to light, so be it!

This film opens nationwide in March 9, 2012. I highly recommend you to check this out. This is a must-see for students/educators/parents, it’s impossible not to be moved by this film.


What are your thoughts about this film and/or the subject matter? Any interest in seeing this one?



UP NEXT: Interview with TCFF Lead Programmer & TIME magazine editor Steve Synder and 50/50 Review

TCFF 2011 starts today! Stay tuned for FC coverage & mini reviews

Happy Tuesday, folks! It’s not just another Tuesday on the calendar though, it’s the start of the Twin Cities Film Fest!

Click image to see trailer & buy tickets now

I’m excited to be covering the event starting tonight with The Bully Project documentary tonight, followed by Q&A with director Lee Hirsch.

The cast & director of Like Crazy @ TIFF

I’m hoping to have time to ask a couple of questions during the panel or even talk to a couple of talents such as Tom Sizemore, Anton Yelchin & Like Crazy‘s director Drake Doremus who are scheduled to appear during the event. As I’ve mentioned here, I really like Yelchin so I’d love to get an autograph from him or even a picture together. Last year I didn’t get a chance to really interview anyone, the closest thing was that I got to shake hands with Waiting for Superman‘s director Davis Guggenheim as he arrived at the theater.

I’m also hoping to see more films this year, in fact, my hope is to see at least two films a day starting tomorrow (there is only just the opening night film scheduled for tonight) so I can give you a mini review of them daily.

So I hope you’ll stay with me during the coverage and pardon my lack of comments on your blog as I’m juggling both my job and covering the film fest. In the meantime, I’d ask you this:

What film festival have you attended or be a part of and what’s your most memorable moment about it?


I could use some tips from you film fest pros out there, so please do share!

Tickets are available now on fandango.com or you can buy multi-film passes online as well at a discounted rate. Visit twincitiesfilmfest.org or showplaceicon.com for more information.

TCFF Spotlight: 5 Buzz-worthy Documentaries

Less than a week away until Twin Cities Film Fest starts on Tuesday, September 20th. So today I’m going to highlight five documentaries worth seeing that are premiering next week at TCFF.

I don’t watch as many docs as I should, in fact, out of the five I highlighted from last year, I’ve only managed to see one, The Cove. It’s a good one if you haven’t already seen it by the way, check out my full review of it from last year. Another one I’ve been meaning to see is Art & Copy, which offers a fascinating look into the world of advertising. Now, these five below are definitely worth checking out:

The Bully Project

Tuesday, September 20, 7:30pm

I’ve talked briefly about this in this post, it seems quite harrowing to watch. Bullying wasn’t as huge a problem where I grew up in Indonesia, at least not in the degree that a lot of American kids go through every day. I think it’s a really serious issue that needs to be addressed and not be dismissed as something trivial. Some kids are driven to the point of suicide because they were bullied, which is just tragic.

18 MILLION KIDS WILL BE BULLIED IN THE U.S. THIS YEAR

3 MILLION STUDENTS ARE ABSENT EACH MONTH BECAUSE THEY FEEL UNSAFE AT SCHOOL

LET’S CREATE SCHOOLS WHERE EVERYONE FEELS WELCOME

I commend Lee Hirsch, a Sundance and Emmy-award winning filmmaker, for creating a character-driven documentary that tackles the topic on the bullying crisis head on.

Revenge of the Electric Car

Saturday, September 24, 8:15pm

This is a Midwest Premiere of a fascinating documentary about who’d be the first to deliver the car of the future!

In 2006, thousands of new electric cars were purposely destroyed by the same car companies that built them. Today, less than 5 years later, the electric car is back… with a vengeance. In Revenge of the Electric Car, director Chris Paine takes his film crew behind the closed doors of Nissan, GM, and the Silicon Valley start-up Tesla Motors to chronicle the story of the global resurgence of electric cars. Without using a single drop of foreign oil, this new generation of car is America’s future: fast, furious, and cleaner than ever.

It’s apparently a sequel to Who Killed the Electric Car? which premiered in Sundance in 2006. This looks really fascinating, check out the trailer below:

Where Soldiers Come From

Saturday, September 24, 3:45pm | Sunday, September 25, 12:30pm

This is a must-see for every American, especially living in a time we’re in today. Freedom definitely is not free.

From a snowy small town in Northern Michigan to the mountains of Afghanistan and back, Where Soldiers Come From follows the four-year journey of childhood friends, forever changed by a faraway war. A documentary about growing up, “Soldiers” is an intimate look at the young men who fight our wars and the families and town they come from. Returning to her hometown, director Heather Courtney gains extraordinary access following these young men as they grow and change from teenagers stuck in their town, to 23-year-old veterans facing the struggles of returning home. This documentary looks beyond the guns and policy of an ongoing war to examine the effect on parents, loved ones and the whole community when young people go off to fight.

Thunder Soul

Sunday, September 25, 
6:45pm

This one looks like fun, I mean the music alone will make you want to get on your feet and starts dancing. It already won a few awards last year at SXSW, Hot Docs in Toronto, as well as in L.A. and Dallas Film Festivals.

They brought funk like no one else could.

Presented by Jamie Foxx, Thunder Soul follows the extraordinary alumni from Houston’s storied Kashmere High School Stage Band, who return home after 35 years to play a tribute concert for the 92-year-old “Prof,” their beloved band leader who broke the color barrier and transformed the school’s struggling jazz band into a world-class funk powerhouse in the early 1970s.

With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story

September 25, 3:15pm

Now this is a must-see for every comic fan, and having just been at Comic-con and missed Stan Lee’ appearance, I’ll definitely going to be seeing this with my hubby in tow. I’ve mentioned this in this lineup post but I’ll include it again here:

At 88 years old, Stan Lee’s name appears on more than one billion comics in 75 nations in 25 languages! Told through the words of Stan himself, as well as numerous interviews with comic book creators, actors, film producers, family and friends, With Great Power paints a portrait of a man whose creativity knows no bounds and whose characters have grown from humble beginnings in the pages of Marvel Comics in the early 1960’s to power house properties in all media  – including film, television, video games, toys, merchandising, and beyond.


There are a few other docs worth checking out this year as well:

  • Yoga Is from Suzanne Bryant is a feature-length doc that reveals how yoga began, tells the story of yoga’s passage to the West. There is also a special Yoga class on Thursday 9/22 taught by the CEO of CorePower Yoga himself, Trevor Tice. With your donation of $30 or more you will receive admission to the yoga class, along with 1 ticket to either one of the two Yoga Is screenings taking place during TCFF.
  • An environmental-themed Yert , a thought-provoking, inspiring, and sometimes hilarious, documentary about the courageous and creative individuals, groups, businesses and leaders of this country who are tackling the greatest environmental threats in history.
  • Five short documentaries from Minnesota filmmakers that explores various aspects of arts, music and culture

If you’re in the area, I hope you have time to check this out at TCFF. As for the rest of you, anything from this list appeals to you most?