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Student documentary calls attention to bullying

  • A documentary on bullying was created by students, left to right, Michael Johnson, Mac Jermstad, Chris Clor and Neal Brower.

Posted on April 11, 2012

A group of Grand Valley students has created a short documentary that calls attention to an ongoing national concern. View it here.

“Beyond Bullying: A Short Documentary on Anti-Bullying Legislation in Michigan” was created by Michael Johnson, Neal Brower, Mac Jermstad and Chris Clor for an advanced media production class taught by John Schmit, associate professor of communications. All four students are in their third year of studies as film and video production majors.

Johnson, who worked as producer on the film, said the assignment was to create a short documentary on a contemporary social or political issue, conduct interviews with people related to the topic and shoot relevant footage to supplement the “narrative” created by those interviews. They interviewed Michigan Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, Colette Seguin Beighley, director of the Grand Valley LGBT Resource Center, and several Michigan school administrators and students.

Much of the documentary centers on the controversy surrounding an anti-bullying bill called Matt’s Safe School Law, named for Michigan teenager Matt Epling, who committed suicide in 2002 after becoming a victim of school bullying. Drafted by several Michigan senators, including Democratic Leader Whitmer, the bill was amended at the last minute by Republican senators to excuse bullying if it was based on religious or moral beliefs. The exemption drew criticism and attention from around the world, and the language was removed before the bill was made law in December. Other aspects addressed in the film include the rise of cyber-bullying, differing viewpoints on how bullying is defined and what kind of legislation is necessary.

Johnson and Brower, who directed the documentary, are both from Haslett, part of Whitmer’s district. “The interview with Sen. Whitmer was by far the most daunting task, but it went without a hitch,” said Brower, who came up with the idea to address bullying as their project. Johnson, who secured the interview with Whitmer, was also pleased that she allowed footage of her November 2 speech from the Senate floor to be included in their documentary. She also posted a link to their documentary on her professional Facebook page.

All of the students agreed that the documentary was a collaborative process. “A free exchange of ideas, jobs and responsibilities added to the quality of the finished piece,” said Chris Clor, from Romeo, who was director of photography.

Macaulay Jermstad, from Grand Haven, was sound mixer for the documentary. “We wanted to make something that would challenge ourselves, rather than just doing a project for the grade,” he said. “Michael uploaded our finished video to YouTube, where it has been getting quite a bit of attention with more than 700 views.”

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