Figuring out the rest of the shooting schedule — specifically, obtaining permission to film inside a school — wasn’t as easy. After many rejections, Hirsch pitched his project to a school district in Sioux City, Iowa.
“They were receptive,” he said. “They were like, ‘Hey, we’re on this journey and we want to do better. If this can help us do better and others do better, let’s do it.'”
Watching the documentary suggests that the school has a long way to go. In one of Bully‘s most infamous scenes, an assistant principal chastises one student when he refuses to shake hands with the bully who has been harassing him for weeks. (His rejection is as bad as bullying, she tells him.)
“Teachers and administrators have to recognize that they have a lot of power to make things better — and a lot of obligations as well,” Hirsch says. “We don’t hold back, but it doesn’t come from a place of ‘us versus them’ either.”
“Us versus them” seems to be the antithesis of Hirsch’s method of fighting back against bullying. Because all kids can get bullied, he believes, it’s important to give them all help.
“I think special-needs kids are just as at risk as gay kids,” he says. “I think it’s a mistake for the LGBT community to say, ‘We own bullying’ or ‘This is really just our problem.'”
Asked to clarify, Hirsch reiterates his empathy for all bullying victims.
“I don’t like bullying being a politicized issue,” he says. “I don’t want to give right-wing people that look for any platform they can find to be anti-gay a reason to not teach their kids to be empathetic. We need to get to the kids before the hate comes in.”
Bully is now playing in area theaters.
Read Metro Weekly’s review and watch a preview of the film online.