Contest, an important film about bullying, is not only for teens and family members but for adults who work with tweens and teens. Bullying can happen anywhere and to anyone. It is a behavior which is nullifying to both the bully and the victim, as the film reveals.
What makes bullying so treacherous is when it happens under the radar and the victim feels too ashamed to seek help. With the advent of social media, the intensity of bullying has stepped up and the media have reported on teens who have taken their lives because the online harassment overwhelmed them, feeling the only way out was suicide.
Danny Flaherty (who plays Tommy Dolen) is bullied in the film, yet he is an excellent role model for kids because he uses cleverness, humor and irony to attempt to deal with it. He also tells his Gran about it. Kelley Missal’s character, Anya Bartosh, is also bullied. In the competition for Teen Chef, she and her teammates are harassed and their efforts are sabotaged. You’ll have to see the film to discover how the contest plays out. Danny and Kelley never worked together before Contest. In an interview they discussed the film’s primary topic, bullying, and the type of culture which supports it.
Have you been bullied or have you had friends who have been bullied? What is the best way to deal with it?
Kelley: I’ve been bullied. I think it’s a really scary thing considering it can now follow you home with technology. It’s humiliating being bullied on the Internet where it never goes away. Everyone deals differently. Best way I deal is to confide [in] my friends and family, who remind me that bullying says more about the bully than it does about the person being called names. It shouldn’t be a fact of life, but right now it is. It starts early on, too, which is incredibly sad.
Danny: Anti-bullying is a really important subject to me. We need to rise up against bullying and take a stand. We need children to feel safe in their school environment. The subject of the film really matters to me. That is what drew me to the Tommy Dolen character in the film.
Bullying can happen at any age. As we grow older we start to see the negative effects bullying has on the world. The best way to end bullying is to stand up against it. If you see bullying taking place, you can’t be afraid to step up and help the victim. The long term effects that bullying has on others can be very painful and traumatizing. We need to speak up so this doesn’t happen to innocent people.
Are schools and law enforcement doing enough to deal with bullying in light of kids/teens who have taken their own lives because they felt they had no way out of the harassment they were receiving from their peers?
Kelley: I think schools can do more to prevent bullying and really get it across to kids how damaging it can be to both bullies and the people being bullied. Its suicidal consequences are unbelievable. I don’t think most kids even consider those types of consequences it can have.
Danny: I trust that the schools and law enforcement are doing enough of what they can to prevent bullying. I believe that the only way to really stop bullying is by consulting your peers and sticking up for them when in need.
What do you hope this project and your taking part in it will do for kids, school officials, parents?
Kelley: I know that this project has already started the conversation about bullying. Parents have their own ideas of what bullying is. Like in the movie, some don’t consider their kid’s actions as cruel. There needs to be more examples of what bullying can be. Parents must learn that their kids might not be able to escape because of social media. The effect of bullying in relation to social media must be recognized. This movie dealt a lot with bullying in schools, and school officials can see how groups such as the swim team in the movie really influence and egg each other on to bullying. It is never justified.
Danny: I hope kids will see this film and be able to connect with the story and its characters. This film can help shine a much needed light on the topic of bullying. I think kids will be able to take a lot from the film and hopefully bring it into their schools.
Should schools show this film in after school programs or their own anti-bullying programs or projects?
Kelley: I think the film would definitely be beneficial shown in schools for anti-bullying awareness.
Danny: I absolutely think The Contest would be a wonderful lesson plan for schools to teach in their curriculum. Kids can learn a lot from the film and school would be the best way to do so.
Both Danny and Kelley expressed an appreciation for working with director Anthony Joseph Giunta and the other cast members, saying they hoped they might be able to work with them again. This was Kelley’s first film. She intends to continue with film and hopefully move on to another project.
On a lighter note, Danny mentioned that he “loves pizza so much” and continued, “My character in this film owns a pizza restaurant. It was amazing being able to play a pizza chef.”
Contest is out on DVD with fun assets, music videos, interviews and additional film footage.