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Bully’ Doc Stirs Discussion

Lee Hirsch Film To Open Friday

Above: Kelby was bullied at her school after coming out. She is one of a group of students highlighted in the documentary, "Bully"

Aired 4/10/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Bobby Johnson, father of a bullied child

David Peters, licensed family psychotherapist


Lee Hirsch's documentary "Bully" (opening April 13 in select theaters) had its San Diego premiere at the San Diego Film Festival last September. We talk with one of the parents from the film and a San Diego family therapist about the issue of bullying.

The documentary focuses on a group of children in various parts of the U.S. who have been the victim of bullying. Initially the film was rated R, which angered the filmmakers and parents who felt that children were precisely the audience that needed to see the film. AMC Theaters stated that kids with permission slips would be allowed to see the film. Since then, negotiations have led to a ratings change and the film is now PG-13. Bullying is a serious problem. The film's activist website states that 13 million kids will be bullied this year and 3 million will stay home from school because they feel unsafe there.

Watch the "Bully" trailer here.

Hirsch attended the San Diego Film Festival last fall for the San Diego premiere of "Bully." KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando interviewed him. Here is an excerpt from her interview. The full interview will be on her Cinema Junkie blog on Friday.

"The film has this kind of visceral impact on its audience," Hirsch said, "and whether they are teenagers or adults it causes a strong emotional sense. One of the decision that we made was that the movie wouldn't have experts and have talking heads, it's not, there's no kind of this is the prescription to fix this problem. It's really just you spend the time experiencing what that's like. From there it's like much easier connection to have, to make a choice to change one's behavior, to make a choice to look deeper into what's happening with your kids or to talk to a school more seriously or for an administrator to really think how they have been handling it, it's open in a way that lets people come to their own conclusions with the film."

Bobby Johnson, whose daughter Kelby experienced bullying after coming out in their conservative small town. Johnson and his daughter both appear in the film.

David Peters is a licensed family psychotherapist with a private practice in Mission Valley. He has worked with children and teens in the schools as well as mental health treatment centers.

Companion viewing: "Bullhead" (a brutal act of violence by a bully changes two children's lives), "My Bodyguard" (humorous take on bullying), "Full Metal Jacket" (scene of bullying at bootcamp), "Lord of the Flies" (a society set up by children), "Heathers" and "Mean Girls" (girls clique and bullying)


Avatar for user 'GeraldFnord'

GeraldFnord | April 11, 2012 at 7:32 a.m. ― 4 years ago

Maybe this just reflects the cynicism in a once-{routinely-bullied} 'blue monkey', but I think that one reason that bullying is so hard to root out is that it's an integral part of our education/socialisation process, and that we actually treasure its results. Most norms are arbitrary, and many of them make little sense, and so only violence and its threat can impose them.

As for who'll watch this: I can very easily imagine bullies' flocking to it to cheer, and in search of easy targets.

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Avatar for user 'MeghanHappy'

MeghanHappy | April 12, 2012 at 7:42 a.m. ― 4 years ago

I share similar sentiments w Gerald above. I think society promotes bullying as part of our social dynamic and infrastructure. How to address it is a long term ongoing goal. Gosh, I think back to when I was in lower school and bullying started there. Had we had social networking/ social media it would have been a very difficult childhood/ teen years to navigate. I hold out hope that this film helps both sides become more aware.

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