Intervention outcome heartwarming
Director Lee Hirsch couldn’t help but help, writes
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.