If there’s one experience that everyone can say they’ve shared, it’s bullying, a pernicious practice so infused into society that some have even become numb to it, choosing to ignore it.
However, powerful films and initiatives still continue the fight against bullying. One is We’ve all “A Girl,” directed by Amy S. Weber. The documentary-style film focuses on former friends Avery Keller and Jessica Burns.
Weber inspiration for the film came from her experience with dealing with a bully when she was 6-years-old.
“I had a bully in my class who physically threatened me and was very intimidating and locked me a in a closet and threatened me if I didn’t do what he wanted me to do,” she said. “It escalated to him throwing me face first into a sidewalk, damaging my four front teeth. That experience shaped the rest of my childhood without me ever really knowing it.”
When she moved and started attended a new school, she decided that wasn’t going to happen again.
“If anybody posed a threat to me in any way, I reacted to it, and I normally reacted quite violently to it, I fought a lot of boys in grade school, and I was very angry. I couldn’t really pinpoint why,” Weber said. “When you’re young, you certainly don’t know what you’re feeling or why you’re feeling it. I just knew I had a lot of anger.”
Because of this, she created a pattern of how she treated people. By middle school, she known as the tough girl and she decided to change.
Another inspiration was hearing the stories of young people she has worked with over the past 20 years.
“I do believe that if we get to the heart of the issue, which is getting to the pain behind the behavior,” she said. “Once we recognize that, we can then move toward solutions to bring healing to people who are in pain. I believe bullies are in pain; I’m a walking example of how love can heal and support.”
In fact, all the people who worked on “A Girl Like Her,” have film have a motto: “The only way to save a victim is to heal a bully.”
The film certainly shows this as well. At first, all looks well at Avery and Jessica’s world in a picture-perfect high school. But when tragedy strikes, the school hallways fill with whispers about how Avery treated Jessica.
What’s unique about “A Girl Like Her” is that it’s documentary-style allows the audience to feel the visceral and painful experience that is bullying. It also allows several characters to give their perspective on the story. Instead of being one-sided like most films about bullying are, the film shows you what both girls, their friends and their families are feeling and going through. Jessica’s hidden camera, her friend Brian’s video camera, Avery’s vlogging camera and even the cameras of a documentary film crew — all come together to tell a powerful story of how bullying not only affects the victim but also the bully.
To Weber, this was the purest way to tell the story.
“Because the film was unscripted — the entire film was improvised — the best way to capture the most raw, real performances was to shoot it in a very raw, real and believable way,” Weber said.
The film doesn’t flesh out all the characters’ motivations, this turns out to be a good thing as it allows the audience to impart their own experiences on the story and relate to it that much more. As the film, after all, is “Based on a million true stories” according to its tagline.
Weber said people who watch the film thinking it’s just another bully movie will come out surprised as it comes from a perspective that we rarely get to hear from. With the title, “A Girl Like Her,” one might assume that it’s about Avery. However, even the title itself shows what makes this film special: it doesn’t choose sides. Everyone’s feelings are taken into account, allowing the audience to feel compassion for the characters.
“It is open to interpretation,” Weber said about the title. “Somebody might watch the film and believe it’s Jessica and some people might believe it’s Avery. … It is dependent on the individual who it touches.”
With powerful performances and spot-on realism, “A Girl Like Her” shows what we should all know when it comes to bullying: compassion and healing for both parties.
“There’s absolutely a better way — a way that involves healing on both ends of it in order to stop it all together,” Weber said.
So there is, and “A Girl Like Her” perfectly portrays this.
“A Girl Like Her” open in theaters March 27. For showtimes, visit agirllikehermovie.com.