Lee Hirsch (USA, Special Presentations)
The school bus can be a harsh tribunal. A gruelling gauntlet of teasing, spitballs, “SKOOL SUX” graffiti, and abrupt stops at railroad crossings, entire adolescent reputations are forged on its four wheels, often before the first day of school has even begun. The Bully Project doesn’t focus entirely on the big, yellow bully-maker, but it reappears frequently, functioning as a microcosm for bullying endemic to American schools.
Hirsch and his crew track a handful of people differently embroiled in bullying. There’s a 16-year-old lesbian living in the Bible Belt, an abhorrent high school administrator with a full deck stacked with the “boys will be boys” card, parents whose children have taken their own lives as a result of being relentlessly picked on, and of course, the kids who get browbeaten on the bus (one of whom is sent to a juvenile psychiatric ward after bringing a gun on board in an attempt to avenge herself on her tormentors). If you’ve even been bullied, or bullied, the film is bound to hit home. But what’s even more alarming is the film’s depiction of how organized efforts to end bullying fall on deaf ears.
The Bully Project spends a bit too much time spinning its wheels, showing its juvenile victims sulking around by themselves, and not enough time dealing with these institutional issues. But by the time the film does come around to discussing the organized response to bullying, the results are powerful, and instantly memorable.