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