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.
- 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.
- Alix Lambert
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."