If you didn't know anything about A Girl Like Her, you could probably get halfway through the film before you realized that what you're seeing didn't actually happen. It's not a documentary.
The unscripted indie film, which opens in Dallas and other select cities on Friday, tells the story of high school sophomore Jessica Burns and her former-friend-turned-bully Avery Keller. It's told through the lens of a documentary film crew that's visiting the girls' school, a hidden video camera Jessica wears to record evidence of Avery's bullying and Avery's personal video journal.
The result: an intimate look at bullying from both the perspective of the bully and the bullied.
The film's director, Amy S. Weber, hopes it has far-reaching effects.
"Obviously, making this film, we knew we had a great deal of social responsibility," Weber says in a call from Detroit, where she lives and where the movie was made. "I know that people are going to be watching their own lives on both sides of the story - victims and abusers. Some will be uncomfortable."
That discomfort is good, says Weber, who hopes it will encourage viewers to talk openly about bullying and work toward its eradication.
Perhaps a tall order, but it's one Weber has thought through. She believes the key to ending bullying lies partly in realizing that bullies rarely think of themselves as bullies. They often hurt others because of some pain in their own lives and don't realize what they're doing until someone points it out. Only then can healing occur, both for the bully and the bullied.
Weber is uniquely equipped to address the issue. She's produced a number of short documentaries about how teens deal with negative social pressures. She also knows about bullying firsthand.
When in kindergarten, Weber was bullied by one of her classmates. Once, he threw her face-down on concrete, banging up her front teeth. Another time, he locked her in his trundle bed. Even worse, none of the adults in her life believed her when she asked for help.
A year later, Weber changed schools and decided she wasn't going to be bullied anymore. Instead, Weber took her frustration to the opposite extreme, becoming the bully herself.
"I was the bully of bullies," Weber says. "Anyone who picked on people, I would just jump in and throw the punch or take the punch. ... I had a reputation of being tough."
The movie developed from these personal experiences. Weber says making it helped her heal, and she hopes it will have a healing effect on those who see the film, bullies and victims alike.
She even has a plan for students and teachers to help bring about that healing. Those inspired by the movie can download a Peacekeeper kit from the film's website (agirllikehermovie.com). The kit is an instruction pamphlet that outlines how to promote peace in school.
In this way, Weber hopes to empower students to stop bullying in their own schools.
"The hope is the film sparks the conversation," Weber says. "The peacemakers are the revolution."
By Elizabeth Hamilton
A Girl Like Her
Opens Friday. Starring Lexi Ainsworth, Jimmy Bennett and Hunter King. Directed by Amy S. Weber. PG-13 (disturbing thematic material involving teens, and for language). 92 mins. In wide release.