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Just about everyone has been a victim of bullying at one point in their life. Frightfully, it’s a growing phenomenon that can be traced through the ages and it transcends geographical, ethnic and economic boundaries.
Severe cases of this social evil have even led young people to suicide in order to end their misery.
A director who has dared to tackle this topic in its rawest form and face his own demons is Sundance Film Festival and Emmy-Award winner Lee Hirsch.
His film Bully offers an insight into the bullying crisis that is plaguing schools across the world.
Filmed between 2009 and 2010, and released this year in the US, South African audiences now get to view this documentary at Ster-Kinekor’s Cinema Nouveaus nationwide while it is featured at the exclusive Doccie Fest.
Bully exposes the most common forms of verbal and non-verbal violence experienced by young people. A character-driven story, the film looks at how five children and their families have been affected by bullying.
“As a kid I was bullied, and it was something I carried with me to my adult life,” says Hirsch over the telephone. “The difficulty to communicate what is happening to you in that situation is daunting and the instinct is to minimise the problem and just toughen up.
“In a way the film was an attempt to reconcile that part of my life. This is a unifying global issue and there’s never been a film that speaks to this.”
Hirsch’s extensive research led him to his characters – 12-year-old Alex, 16-year-old Kelby, 14-year-old Ja’Meya and parents David and Tina Long and Kirk and Laura Smalley, who are working through the suicides of their children.
“It shocked me the more research we did, to see how in every community there were so many suicides.
“I came across casts in real-life stories through the internet where they posted videos on the Net and Kelby’s mom wrote into The Ellen DeGeneres Show. We also had access to film for a year in a school,” shares Hirsch.
“People really wanted to share their stories. They felt voiceless. I don’t know if I’ve made peace yet and in making this documentary I wanted to see how I can get kids’ attention and what will inspire us to not be a bystander.”
Hirsch says the response to the movie when screened to more than than 125 000 students, staff at the White House and the UN has been overwhelming. “We managed to start a campaign and it was voted the Biggest Organic Social Action Campaign of the Year on Twitter.
“Sometimes it is the images that stir us; sometimes it’s the opportunity to step into someone else’s shoes. We are hoping the experience of watching Bully will motivate audiences – whether they are kids, parents, educators or administrators – to come off the sidelines and join their community’s work to create a positive school climate.”