Since growing up is so hard, you’d think that all kids, being in the same boat, would be on the same side. Sadly, as anyone who’s been through adolescence knows, that’s not the case – after all, what are kids but more-inexperienced versions of who’ll they’ll eventually become? For many kids, school is a decade-long exercise in survival in the face of abuse from their peers, a gauntlet of ridicule and loneliness that can have devastating effects on their self-esteem, even their mental health.
Alternately, those affected by bullying can emerge determined to change the culture of exclusion and abuse. Some make films – and others make the choice to bring those films to their classmates’ attention. “Finding Kind” is an acclaimed documentary examining the nature of bullying (especially among school-age girls), and Annabella Mendola Finn is a sophomore at Portland High School who has been instrumental in bringing “Finding Kind” to PHS for a screening at 7 p.m. Wednesday. (The screening is open to the public – admission is $5 for students, $10 for adults.) Speaking to Annabella and her mother Kathleen Finn, I asked why Annabella worked to have her school present the film.
“I first saw the film two years ago, when I was going to middle school in Oregon,” explains Annabella. “I found it really eye-opening, really real, and a really inspiring movie. I’ve seen bullying, and I’ve experienced it, and I thought (the movie) could help change things.”
Kathleen, who explains that her daughter transferred to Portland High after experiencing bullying in another school, says that while Annabella’s time at PHS has been much more positive, the film’s message can be beneficial to any school community. “It’s about raising awareness, not just concerning the ‘mean girl’ phenomenon. In a broader sense, it’s reminding people of the concept of kindness, if you will.”
Annabella concurs, citing both the less obvious forms of bullying that can adversely affect students and the way that students can improve their peers’ school experience with even the smallest efforts. “I think some people feel bullying has to be a physical action, but a mean sentence to another girl or boy, or mean talk are all a form of bullying. I think people forget that,” she says.
For Kathleen, even the act of making the film involved producers Lauren Parsekian and Molly Stroud showing kids that they can overcome peer abuse. “I thought that interviewing all these people – not just kids, but parents and psychologists – made people feel that, if you’re on the bullying end, that you’re not alone. The filmmakers started this because they – both beautiful accomplished women – wanted to show how you can come out on the other side.”
As to whether the kids (and parents of kids) who most need a lesson in tolerance and understanding will see “Finding Kind,” Annabella makes the thoughtful point that bullies aren’t necessarily as readily identifiable as we think. “The majority of people who do go will see that being kind is an important thing to do, and will gradually effect the community. Kindness is contagious.” Adds Kathleen, “You don’t realize some of the stuff you say. Gossip, making some comment – that’s all part of this phenomenon. It’s not just girls cornering girls in the bathroom and pushing them around. The problem is much more insidious that that.”
Echoing her mother’s sentiment, Annabella, who praises Portland High for allowing her to present “Finding Kind,” concludes, “It can be as simple as sitting with someone at lunch, or saying something nice to someone – it makes a whole lot of difference in your school life if your social life is happy. (The filmmakers’) big statement, really, is that anyone can be kind.”
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
STRAND THEATRE, Rockland | rocklandstrand.com
Thursday: “Wild Tales.” Argentinian director Damián Szifrón strips away the veneer of civilization in this omnibus movie, presenting six short films about various people confronted by injustice, inequality, and stress, and who all react in different – but invariably shocking – ways.
SPACE Gallery, Portland | www.space538.org
Sunday: “Hard To Be A God.” Fans of Russian cult filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (you know who you are) should check out this similarly challenging Russian sci-fi film from late director Aleksei German, based on a novel by the same authors as Tarkovsky’s “Stalker.” In this one, an Earth scientist is sent to observe the development of a brutal, Middle-Ages-level alien society, only to find himself worshipped as a god.