Bullying is a hot topic these days. It’s not that it hasn’t been occuring for ages, but the posting of chick fights on YouTube.com and the suicide of Phoebe Prince, among other events, have brought the issue to the forefront of society’s collective conciousness. In fact, two films premiered at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival that deal directly with the cruelty kids inflict upon each other.
One is a fictional story “inspired by true events” called That’s What I Am. It stars gifted actors Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, as well as newcomers Chase Ellison, Alexander Walters, and Mia Frampton, and depicts a year in the life of a handful of eighth graders—bullies and their victims—and the rumors, physical abuse, and emotional taunting perpetrated.
Finding Kind is the other festival entry that explores bullying and its consequences. Kind is a documentary and focuses on females only—i.e., Girl World. The brainchild of Lauren Parsekian, a film studies graduate of Pepperdine University, Finding Kind chronicles Lauren and cohort Molly Stroud as they travel around the country for more than a month spreading awareness of bullying and implementing school programs to combat it under mantel of the Finding Kind Campaing. The result is an eye-opening, heart-rending account of the torment that virtually every young girl endures from other girls. Hope is also alive in the film as Lauren and Molly confront the rampant problem and then offer solutions.
Recently, the duo took time out of their busy schedules to answer questions regarding their project, its mission, and what’s in store in the future.
Could you explain how you and Lauren got this project off the ground?
Lauren: The project was inspired by my personal experiences in middle school. Throughout seventh and eighth grade I was tortured. I became scared to go to school, my grades started to drop, I was scared to answer the phone, and finding places to hide on campus became a daily routine. Through this time I battled depression and got to the point where I tried to take my own life. I remember feeling worthless, ugly, stupid, and more than anything else, I felt like my world was over. I know first hand how much it hurts to be called names, to be threatened and to feel like you are all alone.
Ever since my experience with this in middle school, I have known that I wanted to do something to help with this very important issue. As a film student at Pepperdine, [I found] documentaries to be the perfect balance between being involved in the creative process of making a film and sending a message to help people.
The summer of my junior year I was able to travel to MountainFilm documentary film festival, and it was there that everything came together. After formulating the idea of making the documentary, I came home from the festival and sat down with Molly Stroud, a friend of mine from Pepperdine. We were both film majors at Pepperdine and had worked well together on other projects. She had her own experience with this issue during high school and was really excited to be a part of the film. We began to film in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. It was the stories we were capturing on film that inspired us to take this project even further and that was when we founded the nonprofit, Kind Campaign.
Molly: Once we decided that we were going to shoot the film and create this movement, we didn’t let anything stop us. There were definitely plenty of road bumps along the way, but our dedication and passion really fueled the project. Looking back, I am amazed at where we are today and how far we have come. That’s not to say that this isn’t what we were aiming for when we started everything, but the journey getting to this point has been really incredible.
How did you decide where to stop on your cross-country tour and did you have a detailed plan or was it kind of loose?
Molly: Pre-production for the film was intense. Once we decided that we were going on a road trip and mapped out our route, it was quite a process reaching out to schools and organizations across the country. I contacted a ridiculous amount of schools and organizations compared to the number that actually opened their doors to us and the cameras. I think it’s a testament to the seriousness of this issue that faculty and schools allowed two girls with cameras to come into their schools.
Administration across the country knows the serious effects of this issue, so when we told them that we think we might have a solution they were extremely open to letting us come in and work with their students. We had an extremely detailed plan of the cities and towns that we were supposed to stop at at the end of each day, and most days were very structured as well with assemblies and driving time to take into consideration. But, a part of that schedule was leaving time for the raw moments and the spur of the moment decisions that make the film what it is. We couldn’t plan meeting the incredible group of bikers for instance, but thankfully our schedule allowed us to embrace the moments like that and to make the most of whatever came our way. The entire journey was remarkable, but no matter what amount of planning went into it, it would have been a failure if it wasn’t for the inspiring, courageous, and loving people that we met along the way.
What have you learned about girl world since you started the Kind Project?
Molly: Girl and boys are killing themselves over these experiences. It shouldn’t be considered normal to fear going to school, the workplace, or neighborhood functions; to be constantly worrying about what your “friends” are saying about you; or to wake up every morning wishing that you would be accepted by the people if your life. We need to realize that the things we say and do to others can have consequences, sometimes fatal. So often, we are faced with world scale problems that seem impossible to solve. What we fail to realize is that at the root of so many of our problems is a lack of human connection and respect for others. If we all learned to consistently practice kindness and compassion, a lot of these issues may have not come to fruition.
With the constant pressures girls face to look and act a certain way, competition and jealousy have gotten in the way of functional friendships. While males have been taught to compete in sports and to view each other as comrades, females have been taught to compete with each other, and view one another as threats. This is a concept we must unlearn quickly. It’s common to hear girls complain about how unfair it is that boys can maintain a group of friends throughout a lifetime, but for girls, having one true friend makes you lucky. These facts are evidence of the lack of connection and respect that we are talking about. We are here to change that.
What’s next on the horizon? Are you expanding into more schools?
Molly: Kind Campaign’s future is bright. There are many projects in the works for 2011. Right now we are putting a lot of time into the theatrical release of the documentary. We have teamed up with IndieFlix to bring Finding Kind into theaters across the country on Thursday May 8, right before Mother’s Day weekend. Seeing this film is a perfect way for mothers and daughters to bond and start a really important conversation. We have high hopes for this theatrical release. We are also bringing the film onto the 2011 festival circuit.
Following our second road trip, our inbox held thousands of emails from schools across the country, asking us to bring the Kind Campaign school assembly to their female students. We sat down and thought about ways to spread Kind Campaign without having to spend every second of our lives on the road. It’s obviously impossible for us to hit every school in the country so we decided to create a virtual curriculum for this next school year. Our Kind Campaign anti-bullying curriculum package will include the virtual assembly, student workbooks, professor workbooks, a copy of our documentary, and the Kind Club curriculum. We don’t want the conversation to end after our hour-long assembly, so we are creating a program for schools to they can implement a Kind Campaign Club into their school agenda. We are really excited about 2011! It’s going to be a KIND year.
Finding Kind screens Saturday, February 5, 2 p.m., and Sunday, February 6, 11 a.m. Metro Theater, 618 State St. For more information on Finding Kind Campaing, visit kindcampaign.com