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Published May 10 2012

Film offers F-M opportunity to discuss, understand bullying

If you go

What: A screening of “Bully,” followed by a community discussion

When: Film starts 7 p.m. Tuesday, followed by discussion

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway N.

Info: Fargotheatre.org, or call (701) 239-8385

FARGO – When Emily Beck, executive director of the Fargo Theatre, realized she’d be able to bring in the film “Bully,” she knew she also would have an opportunity to get the community involved in something important.

After scheduling the film, which starts today and will run for at least two weeks, Beck reached out to local education and counseling officials to organize a community discussion of the film and of the topic of bullying.

The event will take place after the 7 p.m. screening of the film on Tuesday.

Beck hopes the discussion will give the Fargo-Moorhead community an opportunity to share stories about how they’ve been affected by bullying, and provide tools to deal with the issue.

“All of us at the theater feel very strongly about this,” Beck says. “We didn’t want to just put this movie out there and have that be it.”

The screenings and discussion arrive at an important time. In Minnesota, the issue continues to make headlines after a 13-year-old girl from Mantorville committed suicide last month after apparently being bullied by classmates.

And in Fargo, the school board on Tuesday approved a new bullying policy, which board member John Strand calls the “gold standard in North Dakota.”

The policy focuses on the most at risk students, but is “designed to protect all students and advocate for the safety of all students,” Strand says.

It’s important for the school district to have a comprehensive policy in place, Strand says, because the effects of bullying on students are so significant.

In school, students should be protected from “the things that put them at risk, or the things that diminish their experience or dishearten them and make them not want to go back,” he says.

For Strand, it takes an entire community to face this issue head on, and the discussion offered by the film and by the Fargo Theatre is a place to start.

“The notion that they’re taking it to the public is a plus,” he says of the theater. “I celebrate moments like that, where people are bringing it to the people in a neutral space.”

Kristen Benson, an assistant professor of human development and family science at North Dakota State University, also feels that bringing the movie to Fargo was an important thing to do.

Benson, who teaches a sexuality class at North Dakota State University and whose research focuses on gender identity and relationships, which often intersects with bullying, says she hopes the film inspires people to take action.

“Having stories to connect to hits us in a different place emotionally,” she says. “When it means something to us, we do something about it. We need to be moved, and we all need to be taking action.”

Benson hasn’t seen “Bully” yet, but she hopes it addresses how bystanders need to get involved when they see bullying instead of standing by and letting it happen.

“How do we teach kids to intervene and do something?” she asks. “That’s where I’m hoping the film will encourage some conversation.”

For Beck, it’s that power of a movie to bring a community together and think critically about a subject that gives the film and the accompanying discussion such potential.

“I think film is a very powerful medium,” she says. “We love sharing films that tell stories like this, but after the film is done, we think it’s our job at the Fargo Theatre to give audience members time to communicate and share stories.”