A film series presented on Tuesday nights in October aims to raise awareness about bullying behavior and how to prevent it. Those who organized the events made learning easy by asking people to do something they already like to do: Watch a movie.

October is widely recognized as National Bullying Prevention month. Film-series organizers want the events to have a strong local impact.

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Jillian Nodlund, co-founder of a Hudson-based film, video and event-production company, The Picture Factory, has been involved in coordinating the efforts.

She says the films are important because they all depict the importance of advocacy and raise awareness about an often ignored issue.

Nodlund said the topic of bullying generally makes people uncomfortable, so why not expose it instead of making excuses like, "kids will be kids."

Big screen bullying

The anti-bullying coalition showed on Oct. 4, "Bullied: A Student, a School, and a Case That Made History." A discussion after the movie asked, "Can bullying be overcome?"

The first screening also included four short films produced by local students as part of an anti-bullying initiative.

On Oct. 11, the coalition showed the well-known 25-year-old mainstream movie "Stand By Me," based on a story by Stephen King and directed by Rob Reiner.

The discussion afterward explored how befriending a bully can counteract bad behavior.

Coming soon...

  • Oct. 18: Catch "Two Spirits," a story about a mother who lost her son that is set in the Native American culture. See it 6:30 p.m. at the River Falls Public Library, 140 Union St., with discussion afterward led by Donna LaChapelle and Renne Soberg focused on the question: Can a cultural attitude or value be changed?

    The film's run time is 56 minutes. Get more information about its content online at: twospirits.org

  • Oct. 25: See "Rats and Bullies," at 6:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Society, N8010 State Road 65, which is the story of Dawn Marie Wesely, 14, who took her own life after being bullied and threatened by three girls at her high school. Afterward, director of the St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program, Kris Miner, will host a circle-style discussion about values.

The film's run time is 85 minutes; get more information about its content online at:

www.ratsandbullies.com.

Nodlund said the first screening drew about 20 people -- from high school age through older adults, including a mother and daughter from Hastings, Minn.

Asked about the post-film talks, she said, "Most of the discussion was people relating their own personal experiences. That made it really interesting."

Initiative takes hold

Those involved in the coalition and film screenings say the effort started within the Interweave Committee at the Unitarian Universalist Society of River Falls.

The Rev. Nancy Holden explains Interweave as a UUA agency dedicated to humanitarian purposes and to furthering the rights and welfare of gay people.

"The anti-bullying campaign is the biggest thing we have done," Holden said, "precipitated by the suicides of many gay children, youth, and adults across the country. We want to change the culture that promotes bullying and allows discrimination of any kind."

The social-outreach task force didn't want to duplicate efforts and decided it should team with like-minded others.

Soon the group gained partners including the River Falls-based St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program, the River Falls School District, the River Falls Peace and Justice Group, River Falls Partnership for Youth, the American Association of University Women and the River Falls Public Library.

Though the coalition spent $100 on film licensing, it has received support in the way of donated services.

Nodlund says the group will raise funds by "passing the hat" at events and by seeking support and sponsorship for things such as student wristbands and future anti-bullying events.

UUSRF minister the Rev. Ted Tollefson says about initiative, "Like many things for ministers, it started with a sermon," and adds that he was trying to address the question: "What is bullying?"

A teacher of psychology at Metro State University in St. Paul, Tollefson defines bullying as a recurring thing that often begins with harassment, humiliation or physical or psychological harm done to a person or group, frequently as punishment for being different in some way.

"Their difference is misinterpreted as defect," said Tollefson, adding later that "if we all take on the problem, it gets solved."

Tollefson explains it's good to create a culture of befriending and of living the Golden Rule. He thinks one antidote to bullying is to become the bully's ally.

"Another way to create change is to transform bystanders into more active change agents," he said, "to upstanders."

Restorative Justice Director Miner agrees and said, "I see bullying as people being intolerant of each other. They're not accepting each other for what they are."

She said the River Falls-based RJ center sometimes handles bullying cases by referral, only when the person victimized or the person who did the harmful act asks for it.

She said the process treats both parties equally and helps kids find a common ground by agreeing to live by a desired set of values. Adhering to those values then prevents bad behavior.

Lead by example

River Falls School Superintendent Tom Westerhaus said the district takes seriously its mission of developing students' potentials in safe, nurturing and collaborative surroundings.

"Bullying has no place in such an environment, and we go to great lengths to prevent and eliminate bullying within our schools," said Westerhaus.

Meyer Middle School Counselor Gary Campbell said bullying happens often, and he thinks popular culture plays a key role.

Movies, games, TV and other media not only show those kinds of behavior but glorify it.

"Kids today are exposed to these more than they ever have been before," Campbell said. "Even in our political arena nationally and in the state, these behaviors are seen."

The counselor said kids are emboldened by the anonymity of being behind their keyboard or phone screens -- often saying things they wouldn't in person but that qualify as cyber-bullying.

Campbell said some kids don't get the chance to learn how to resolve conflict appropriately because parents step in to handle it for them.

"If you stand by and watch it happen, then the bully is empowered and continues," said Campbell, agreeing with the upstander versus bystander philosophy. "When others help those being picked on and harassed, then the bully loses their sense of power and often stops."

He said especially in a litigious society, people don't feel it is their place to say anything, yet kids still need to know how to treat people respectfully.