Winning an award is nice, but the emotional and reflective response that comes from audience members has been most gratifying for the filmmakers of Bullied to Silence.
The feature documentary by Sedona's Tami Pivnick and Susan Broude will be a special presentation during the ZGI Shorts Film Festival. It will be screened May 27 at 10 a.m.
Bullied to Silence received the Indie Spec Best Content Award at the Boston International Film Festival. It was the first feature film by Dog Eats Hat Productions, with Pivnick directing and editing and Broude writing and producing.
The soundtrack, with music by Sedona's own Suzie Schomaker, will be on CD soon.
Another documentary, Bully, which focused on bullying at school, received a lot of notice earlier this year, but Broude does not look at it as stealing Bullied to Silence's thunder. Instead, she says it expands the conversation on a widespread problem. Contrasting Bully's content, B2S focuses on the damage done by bullying words, whether face-to-face or in cyberspace.
The film actually made its Sedona debut earlier this month through the Sedona International Film Festival's Mary D. Fisher Theatre. The result was unprecedented question-and-answer sessions afterward with the filmmakers and some of those who participated in the film.
Those bullying victims included outspoken Arizona teens Caleb Laiesky and Merik Castro, former WNBA player and coach Bridget Pettis, California teen dancer Blake Gaylord, Sedona musician Adam Smith and attorney David Horowitz.
"This film seemed to break down the barriers for me," Smith said.
In the four showings of B2S in Sedona, the Q&A's went on for an hour or longer as audience members asked questions and felt inspired to share personal experiences. At one screening a member of a group of Cottonwood schoolchildren stood up and said he had been a bully and was no longer going to bully.
As stressful as going on camera to talk about personal issues may be, it also had a cathartic effect for many participants.
"It's a healing process for me," Pettis said.
"This just shows you what a talented interviewer Tami is," Horowitz said. "I had no idea I was that personally revealing."
Pivnick and Broude found subjects for their film by posting on FaceBook and reaching out to those they knew had a story. They did man-on-the-street interviews at parades and events, and they talked to students at schools.
They were also contacted by Jennifer Ehrentrout, cousin of Tyler Clemente, who committed suicide in what has become an unparalleled hate-crime case. That story is also in the film.
Pivnick and Broude had a disarming approach that also won them some interviews unexpectedly. One principal in Massachusetts was a bit blind-sided and reluctant when the camera came to his office. A dog-lover, however, he quickly befriended Pivnick's service dog Tara (Pivnik is hearing impaired), the interview warmed up and he became a crucial expert for the film's content.
In the case of Casey Heynes, the Australian boy who became a Web sensation when a video of him taking down a bully went viral, Broude and Pivnick made first contact with his mother by simply asking, "How's Casey?" Other media outlets had come at the family with blunt requests for interviews and were rejected. Dog Eats Hat Productions gained the only U.S. interview with Casey and his mother.
Pivnick said school officials around the country, from Boston to Arizona and California, have requested the film to show in classrooms.
The film looks not only at bullying in the school setting but also the effects into adulthood, how words can lead vulnerable children to hopelessness and suicide (surviving family members have chilling tales), how victims have been able to remove themselves from a bullying atmosphere. There are several amazingly talented youths featured who have been able to use that talent to survive and often to triumph. The film also discusses the long-range negative impact bullying has on the bully and on bystanders.
Early showings of B2S perplexed Pivnick and Broude with color and sound problems in some segments. Before coming back to Arizona with it, they took it through some post-production work in Los Angeles.
"It's absolutely perfect," Broude said. "We're thrilled with it now."
B2S was shot with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and the final cut let that shine through.
Last week, Bullied to Silence screened at the Phoenix Art Museum. Its presentation at the ZGI Shorts Film Festival is full circle for Pivnick, who learned her filmmaking skills in the classrooms of the Zaki Gordon Institute.
For more information on the film visit www.bulliedtosilence.com. For information on the ZGI Festival, visit zgi-yc.com/film-festival/.