Filmmaker fights bullies, one screening at a time


"I knew he'd be victimized," the father of a bullying victim said onscreen as 30 people in the Hillview Middle School auditorium in Menlo Park viewed the documentary, "Bully," on Dec. 2.

The father in the film was mourning the loss of his son, who had died by suicide related to bullying. Throughout the film's 98 minutes, five families' stories unfolded, showing the lives of children deeply affected by bullying. It depicted the story of a gay teen, a child with special needs, and children who were bullied because they did not fit in with their peers.

After the screening, Lee Hirsch, the film's director, took the stage to answer questions. He said that after the 2011 film's initial success and impact, he started The Bully Project, what he calls a "pop-up nonprofit." His activism to combat bullying emerged because "the film was galvanizing people in ways that wouldn't happen naturally," he said.

He realized the film could have even more impact if it were to come with a toolkit of ideas and strategies for parents and schools to use to address bullying.

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After the film, Mr. Hirsch fielded questions from parents for nearly an hour, asserting that while there are some things parents can do to help kids who may be facing bullies, schools must take seriously the task of preventing and stopping bullying.

When he pointed out that there were no administrators present (the film presents a somewhat unflattering view of some school administrators), parents leapt to the defense of the local school administrators, saying that Menlo Park has been proactive at addressing bullying in its schools.

Just like schools provide some kids with free or reduced price lunch to ensure they are all getting at least one meal per day, Mr. Hirsch argued, they should take similar actions to provide social and emotional support, ensuring that all children have at least one adult at the school who knows what's going on in that child's life.

Cyberbullying, he said, should not be treated as a separate condition from "relational," or in-person, bullying. He said cyberbullying is most toxic and harmful when it extends from the online realm to in-person interactions among peers, so both need to be addressed together.

Finally, the evening was not complete until at least one audience member suggested a tech solution to the problem, in this case recommending a platform for people to rate schools based on their safety from bullies.

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