Alameda Theatre hosts free screening of "Bully" tonight

Alameda Theatre hosts free screening of "Bully" tonight

Michele Ellson
"Bully" is being screened at the Alameda Theatre & Cineplex.

When Jim Franz was a schoolboy in the 1940s, bullying was kids getting pushed around on the playground. But in the intervening years it’s come to be recognized as something more mental and verbal than physical, and its reach has extended from the finite frontier of a schoolyard blacktop to the infinite reaches of cyberspace.

“It’s more than just this little thing that happens on the way to school,” said Franz, the city’s community development coordinator.

Locally, school district and city leaders have undertaken a variety of efforts to turn the tide of bullying and to make schools a safe and inclusive place for everyone. And tonight, those efforts continue with a free screening of “Bully” at the Alameda Theatre & Cineplex.

The screening, co-hosted by the cineplex and Vice Mayor Rob Bonta, begins at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a panel discussion that will be moderated by Bonta and will include school district staff and Alameda Police Chief Mike Noonan, who will also answer audience questions.

Regular, paid screenings of the film will continue at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily through Thursday. The cineplex is at 2311 Central Avenue.

Bonta and Alameda Theatre owner Kyle Conner said they came up with the idea to hold the event in order to draw more attention to the film and to engage the community in a conversation about bullying and how to stop it.

“It’s something that requires a community’s recognition of it, to begin to address it. And a community dialogue to arrive at solutions which people agree can be helpful and positive,” Bonta said.

Bonta said he hasn’t had any specific experiences with bullying, though Conner said he’s seen it happen at his kids’ schools and that he was a victim of bullying himself (though Conner said he ended up becoming friends with the youths who bullied him).

Franz said bullying can begin as early as preschool and that it intensifies in middle school, and if it’s left unchecked, the behavior can morph into abuse, date rape and domestic violence. And he said that with the advent of Facebook and other online social media, the abuse has transition from fleeting face-to-face moments to more permanent – and public – episodes carried out on the Internet.

“When you’ve added the technology, it becomes so scary,” Franz said. “Things don’t only happen in real time, person to person. Now they’re things that are becoming indelible without being erased.”

More than a quarter of Alameda school district staff queried for a school climate survey in 2008 said harassment and bullying was a problem at the school where they worked, with 72 percent of those who worked at the district’s middle schools saying it was a problem. A companion survey of students in grades seven, nine and 11 found that about half the middle school students surveyed and a third or more of the high school students queried reported they had been the target of rumors or lies, sexual comments or gestures or had been made fun of because of the way they looked or talked.

In February 2010, a 14-year old Wood Middle School student was arrested for bringing a loaded gun and knives to school in his backpack following what police said were bullying incidents that began online and escalated into face-to-face confrontations. And Assistant Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said the district has seen an increase in occurrences of online bullying.

But the district has undertaken a host of efforts to combat bullying and boost tolerance in Alameda schools, including a pair of curricula and supportive materials in the district’s elementary schools, increased counseling and more standardized discipline in the middle schools and restorative justice programs at the high schools intended to help students understand the consequences of their actions and to repair the damage they may have caused.

“’Anti-bullying’ really focuses on the negative. What we’re really trying to do is teach kids to be tolerant and respectful in a diverse community,” McPhetridge said.

The movie tells the stories of five students who have been bullied, two of whom committed suicide as a result of being bullied. Some 13 million American children are bullied each year, a trend the film’s creators and supporters hope to reverse.

“It’s pretty intense. It has some really sad situations, and some sad scenes in it that are kind of disheartening,” Conner said. “But it’s real. It’s very potent. And it’s very pertinent to the social environment that our kids are in today.”

Conner recommended that parents determine whether their children are mature enough to watch the movie, which convinced the Motion Picture Association of America to grant it a PG-13 instead of an R rating in order to reach more youths. He suggested parents of tweens and teens attend the film with their children, in order to offer guidance for what they will see.

A companion guide (posted below) has been created to help parents talk to their children about the movie; Franz said the Alameda Collaborative for Children, Youth and Families will offer tips for dealing with bullying on a website slated to go live Tuesday.

Both Conner and Bonta urged people to come see the movie.

“It’s enlightening,” Conner said. “It’s not necessarily a feel-good kind of movie. It’s a reality check, is what it is. And it’s really happening.”

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