In her 2014 film, "Mentor,"
filmmaker, director and writer Alix Lambert tackles the difficult subject of bullying in
schools. The film, based on five teen suicides that took place in Mentor, Ohio,
between 2005 and 2010, chronicles some of the sustained abuse the students suffered
prior to taking their own lives. The film is, as one would expect,
heartbreaking and tragic and tells a story that deserves to be widely heard.
click to enlarge
Courtesy Alix Lambert
A filmmaker and screenwriting instructor, Lambert has presented her work at the London Film Festival and written for the TV show Deadwood.
Lambert, a documentarian based out of New York, traveled to
Mentor to speak with the friends and families of the victimized, including Eric
Mohat and Sladjana Vidovic. Both families chose to bring lawsuits against
Mentor High School, who did nothing to curb the negative attention the bullied
students were receiving. School officials wouldn't speak on
camera, to which Lambert says, "I understand there's an open lawsuit and there
are things you can't say, but ... there are so many generic kinds of things that
don't implicate you as a guilty party that you can and should say."
Lambert has received a great deal of criticism about the
film, including the assertion that she is picking on the town of Mentor. The
claims are, of course, untrue. Sadly, Lambert is simply telling a story -- with
admittedly extreme circumstances -- that the public has heard more and more
about over the past several years.
"There's this kind of ongoing
'Kids will be kids, bullying happens' [mentality]," Lambert says. "That's
what's alarming for me. It's not that I don't understand this happens in other
places. It's that there should be a response. There should be a concern."
Oddly enough, the criticism
has come from people who won't talk on camera, meet with Lambert in person, and
haven't seen the film. "They watched the two-minute trailer and decided they
hate it." The backlash, Lambert explains, is unpleasant, but in this case it's
really important. Many of the comments she's received fall under 'This is in
the past; it shouldn't matter.'
"They make a case
against themselves by denying bullying is still happening," Lambert says.
Many of the comments Lambert received while making Mentor fall under "This is in the past; it shouldn’t matter."
The few adults
interviewed during "Mentor" who express the most concern about the harassed students
-- aside from the victims' parents -- are individuals outside the school
system, including a bullying
expert and a juvenile court intake officer. Both remark in particular
about the severity of Sladjana Vidovic's experiences, which
included being pushed down the stairs by a football player who was never punished.
The notion of athletes not always being held accountable for their actions is
another frightening reality, especially when it comes to the aggressors who seem
to have never been taught about basic human kindness.
Mentor, Ohio, is
portrayed as a perfect place -- comparable to the Connecticut town that bred so
many Stepford wives -- that hides something disturbing
behind closed doors. Lambert's previous documentary subjects
include Russian prison inmates and serial killers and says stories like
that are creepy on the surface. Interestingly, she notes, "I found a lot more
openness in other stories I've done that are darker." Mentor's unofficial town
slogan is apparently 'Everything is fine here.' Clearly, nothing could be
further from the truth.
"Mentor" will be screened for the public at the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts
(610 W. 46th St.) on
Tuesday, Jan. 27th at 7:30 p.m. The event is free and will be followed by a Q&A session
with Lambert, who is Butler University's Booth Tarkington Writer-in-Residence for 2014-2015. She
currently teaches screenwriting
to undergraduate and graduate students at the university, and she has written for
television shows Deadwood
and John from Cincinnati.
Few subjects are as difficult as the rash of suicides in Mentor, Ohio, that are the focus of Lambert's compelling documentary.
"I got into writing
kind of circuitously," she says. "I started writing screenplays because I
wanted to direct them."
Lambert grew up in
Washington, D.C., where she went to a magnet high school with an arts focus. Her
background is in fine arts --"I started in the gallery world" -- which included
installation work that involved video, still photography, sculpture and mixed
media projects. She moved to New York to go to college at the School of Visual Arts,
where she now mentors graduate students in the school's interdisciplinary MFA
program, Art Practice.
Of the high school
students Lambert interviewed for her film, she noted that many of the teenagers
had never left Mentor. Perhaps that's one of the many reasons they targeted
Eric Mohat, who toured with his show choir group
and was headed for Hawaii just a few weeks before his death. "My family
traveled," Lambert says. "I never had a sense that there was just one
way to live."
Chi Sherman enjoys writing essays and poetry, being a documentary nerd, and hanging out with her family and friends. Her work has appeared in NUVO, The Huffington Post, and, sporadically, on her blog.
This Saturday Clowes Memorial Hall will bring It Gets Better to the stage for a powerful and entertaining message of hope and support to the LGBTQ community -- and especially to its youth and their loved ones.