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Bully's Big Goal

With DVD release, director aims for a million viewers.

Director Lee Hirsch put it simply. “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for.”

The moment arrived this March, with the release of a special educator’s DVD and Toolkit version of his documentary Bully. It’s been a long time coming for Hirsch, who shot the film in 2009–10, debuted the movie in July 2011, and steered it to a theatrical release in March 2012. After a flap over a few profanities almost caused the film to be rated R and miss a large part of his intended audience, Hirsch finally has the chance to meet his ambitious goal: getting his work seen by one million students by the end of this year.

“That’s roughly one in ten students,” he says. “That will create a tipping point, a profound ripple effect.”

The $29 resource kit, which includes the DVD and an in-school public screening license, is designed to help educators leverage the power of the film. He’s already a third of the way to his goal, thanks to a number of mass viewings—it was screened for 6,500 students in Los Angeles and 12,000 students and 500 teachers in Salt Lake City.

Though his district already has a “thoughtful and comprehensive” anti-bullying program, SLC superintendent McKell Withers says that having students see the film provides a powerful common experience. The logistics of getting so many students to a theater were complicated, Withers says, but the payoff came when “quite a few” teachers thanked him for allowing them to better understand bullying.

“Seeds are planted that weren’t there before. It’s led to decency and respect” among students, he adds.  

The film has already wrought big changes in Sioux City, Iowa, which granted Hirsch permission to shoot in its schools. As a result of bullying incidents he caught on film, the district has installed cameras and microphones on school buses and reworked its policies to better address bullying and its consequences.

Hirsch applauds better policies, but cautions that policies are not enough. Principals and superintendents need to set the tone for students and staff. “Not everyone has the tools they need,” Hirsch says. “A high number of teachers are not trained on bullying.”

Even as he aims to reach a million students, Hirsch recognizes that change has to come one student at a time.

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—Spring 2013—

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