New documentary gives voice to the bullied

By Chelsie Field

 

It’s affected 13 million American kids this year – and it’s playing at a theater near you.

Directed by award-winning filmmaker and Hampshire College graduate Lee Hirsch and produced by Cynthia Lowen, a graduate of Amherst Regional High School, the documentary “Bully” offers an intimate look at the bullying experiences of five kids and their families throughout the 2009-2010 school year, including two families whose children had committed suicide from relentless bullying.

The film’s message is simple and familiar, albeit a powerful one: together, change is possible.

“It was really important to us when we made the film that we wanted every single person to be able to see this film and to say, ‘You know what? I know that there are ways that I can stand up and make a difference,’” said Lowen in a discussion following a showing of the film at Amherst Cinema Sunday night.

Lowen said she believes bullying is a problem highly concentrated in the American school system, saying “I feel like [bullying] is this generation’s issue.”

Not only kids, but parents, administrators and educators are all gradually coming to terms with acknowledging the scale of the issue in their own communities, Lowen said.

“There’s been an incredible outpouring and a shift of awareness [over the past three years],” said Lowen, adding that although progress is being seen nationwide to implement bullying prevention resources in schools, it’s a time-consuming process.

The film has helped spark a nationwide social action campaign, The Bully Project. Lowen hopes the film can be shown in every school in the nation, emphasizing that it takes an entire community to essentially make a significant difference.

“We want teachers, we want kids and we want parents to be watching this film together … Our real hope is for it to be used as a way to start a conversation of what happens not just that day, but what happens with the other 180 days that everyone is being bullied,” said Lowen.

Getting the film into the schools, and even into theaters, has been a challenge in itself. Originally given a restrictive R-rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for the inclusion of six expletives, the team behind “Bully” rejected the initial evaluation and released the film into select theaters unrated. This instantly limited its influence to the very audience of whom the film is about – minors.

Lowen and the rest of the people behind “Bully” never thought they were making an R-rated film, saying the R-rating they never accepted was “surprising.”

“I think that if we’re going to be able to talk to [kids] honestly about this issue, we have to depict it honestly and in their voices and in the language that they hear,” Lowen said.

With relentless refusal from the company behind the film, The Weinstein Company, to accept the R-rating, and after pressure from a grassroots online petition which collected over half a million signatures, the MPAA lowered its rating to PG-13, making it acceptable for the film to be shown to minors and students in schools.

“We were really happy when we got the PG-13 rating. There were six F-words originally, now there are three, so it’s only [rated R] if you see it twice,” Lowen joked.

On a more serious note, Lowen emphasized the gravity in the reality that bullying poses across the country, urging communities to get behind this issue and see the film.

“This is not just kids being kids. We have to take it seriously because many kids are hurting themselves… [Bullying] is absolutely universal and it touches every single community in this country.”

The film will run at Amherst Cinema through May 3. Tickets can be purchased at the Amherst Cinema box office or online www.amherstcinema.org.

Chelsie Field can be reached at [email protected]