In­ter­ven­tion out­come heart­warm­ing

Di­rec­tor Lee Hirsch couldn’t help but help, writes

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES -

UNCH­ING, stab­bing with pen­cils, death threats. Di­rec­tor Lee Hirsch says film­ing his doc­u­men­tary Bully meant be­ing wit­ness to some con­fronting scenes, but when the sit­u­a­tion turned in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous for one 12-year-old, he felt com­pelled to step in.

Hirsch alerted the par­ents and teach­ers of Alex Libby, show­ing them ev­i­dence of the boy’s daily tor­ment on the school bus.

Speak­ing in Sydney dur­ing a visit to pro­mote the film, Hirsch says it was tough to do, but it was a ‘‘non-choice’’.

‘‘My pro­duc­ing part­ner Cyn­thia (Lowen) and I talked about it for about two min­utes and then we just knew we had to do it,’’ he says.

Years later ( Bully was filmed over one school year from 2009-10), the change the doc­u­men­tary has had on Alex’s life is mon­u­men­tal.

Hirsch says Alex re­cently ac­cepted a youth award in San Fran­cisco, where Sean Kingston was on stage per­form­ing.

‘‘Alex said to Sean, ‘hey, can I drop some rhymes’. And they gave him a beat and Alex just killed it and all the kids were just scream­ing for him,’’ Hirsch says.

‘‘To see that kid now and think back to how his life may have ended up . . . it’s a re­ally good feel­ing.’’

Alex is one of five chil­dren from the US whose sto­ries made it into the cut, al­though Hirsch says they filmed more.

They found 16-year-old Kelby, who was os­tracised by her community af­ter com­ing out as a les­bian, when her mother wrote to Ellen DeGeneres af­ter the teenager was pur­posely run over by a mini­van.

Four­teen-year-old Ja’Meya was fac­ing a lengthy jail sen­tence af­ter tak­ing dras­tic ac­tion to scare off her tor­menters, while the par­ents of Ty Smal­ley, 11, and Tyler Long, 17, both lost their re­lent­lessly bul­lied chil­dren to sui­cide.

‘‘That ur­gency (to do some­thing) was just com­ing from so many direc­tions,’’ 40-year-old New Yorker Hirsch says. ‘‘Each fam­ily, each story that we met or started to en­gage in I think made us more com­mit­ted to the film and mak­ing it as good and pow­er­ful as it could pos­si­bly be.’’

Hirsch, who was bul­lied ‘‘pretty vi­o­lently’’ when he was young, thinks it’s a topic that touches ev­ery­one – ‘‘whether you’ve been bul­lied, been a bully, been a by­stander’’ – but has only re­cently be­come some­thing peo­ple dis­cuss openly.

‘‘( Bully) was an at­tempt to give us a way to re­ally talk about it and ac­knowl­edge how vi­o­lent and ter­ri­fy­ing it can be – and give a voice,’’ he says.

opens to­day. Call Life­line on 131 114 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 for sup­port and in­for­ma­tion about sui­cide preven­tion.

Doc­u­men­tary di­rec­tor Lee Hirsch.

Alex Libby

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