Arizona filmmakers Susan Broude and Tami Pivnick set out with some heavy goals: to give a voice to bullied youth across the nation, to challenge everyone to treat others as they would like to be treated, and to empower people to help put a stop to verbal abuse and cyberbullying.
The resulting film, Bullied to Silence, doesn't just give a voice to the bullied, it gives a microphone, and turns it up to 11.
The film's most profound challenge to a silence that can be devastating -- of lost lives and broken spirits -- is less direct than the spoken words, cited research, or statistics: It is the film's consistent, assertive, cacophony of sound.
Executive Music Producer Suzie Schomaker composed the film's score, which is intercut with swooshing sound effects that punctuate the wipes. But it is the cast of young people - composed so overwhelmingly of singers and musicians, like American Idol semi-finalist Brett Loewenstern and pop rock duo Michael and Marisa -- that best represents the empowering theme of sound over silence.
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"Our intention is to show that despite media coverage that idealizes suicide and relates it to bullying, we want to provide hope and a path for change by not just focusing on the tragedies but on the triumphs and opportunities that result in joining forces and creating positive action," says producer/writer Broude, via email. "To that end, we include the positive action taken by those in the film, which includes some who chose to write anti-bullying songs to spread the message to be the change."
In a media context in which shows like Glee have utilized the spectacle of song and dance -- and its correlating themes of finding your voice and singing out proudly as a kind of defiant act -- to deliver messages of hope and empowerment, this use of music may in fact make the film much more effective in communicating its messages to arguably the most important audience: contemporary young people.
Unlike the moving and slow Bully, with its more realist style showing minimal filmmaker intervention, Bullied to Silence has a rapid pace intermixed with narration, research, and statistics that today's new-media-addled youth will have no problem absorbing.
That said, this same media context that makes this particular film so adept at speaking to young people has grown increasingly complicated in only the past month.
In his early endorsement of gay marriage, Vice President Biden referenced the sitcom Will & Grace, but subsequent media coverage was quick to praise the more recent Smash for performing that important cultural function of normalizing LGBT characters. (Smash -- arguably NBC's answer to FOX's popular Glee -- does this in the context of a Broadway show.)
But while it was a good week for Smash, it was a bad month for Glee: Bristol Palin derided President Obama's support of gay marriage as being overly influenced by his daughters and perhaps "one too many episodes of Glee." ThinkProgress blogger Alyssa Rosenberg sparked an online battle royale when she argued that liberals should take a stand against Glee for its immoral exploitation of the serious struggles faced by, among others, its LGBT characters.
Is it possible to create art and profit while seeking to convey ethical messages of hope, love, and respect for others? Critics of Glee's deal-with-the-iTunes-devil say no, but that shouldn't mean that each of these goals is definitively contradictory.
In Bullied to Silence, singing becomes a feat of triumphant, joyful defiance, and it's hard not to cheer for that.
Singer Dalton Letorney (now of the duo Dalton & Dylan, one of many musicians or acts featured in the film who produced an anti-bullying song) says it best when he describes his thoughts during a particularly spectacular moment: "Hey bullies, look what I'm doin'," he says in his charming Boston accent, "I'm singin' the national anthem at Fenway Park. What are you doin'?"
To learn more about Bullied to Silence and how you can see a screening, sign up for the e-letter or get updates on the website: bulliedtosilence.com.