A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mentor is a cautionary tale, a documentary about two teens from Mentor High School in Mentor, Ohio, who were victims of severe bullying and ultimately killed themselves in 2007 and 2008. The film is an in-depth uncovering of the events leading to the deaths of 16-year-old Sladjana Vidovic and 17-year-old Eric Mohat and the aftermath of each. Interviews with family, friends, a reporter, a psychologist, and a lawyer are both heartbreaking and discouraging as the viewer is soon informed of the many efforts parents made to get help and how their pleas to the school went unanswered. With no rebuttal from Mentor school district personnel (all declined to be interview), it's a damning indictment of their policies and actions. Candid discussions and graphic recollections of the events as they unfolded make this a movie best suited for mature kids only. Members of the Vidovic family are refugees from war-torn Croatia, and most of their dialogue is subtitled in English.
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What's the story?
Mentor, Ohio, has been listed on several "100 Best Cities" lists of American cities. But Alix Lambert's furious documentary, MENTOR, shows another side of this idyllic-seeming community. Though it's noted that Mentor High was the school of two earlier suicide victims and one accidental overdose, Lambert focuses on two kids. Eric Mohat was 17, a lovable, eccentric kid: a choir member, a boy who initially wasn't afraid of being different, and a kid with a good family and caring parents. When he shot himself to death, it was just after a bullying classmate told him, "Why don't you go home and shoot yourself. It's not like anyone would care." Eric never told his parents about the bullying, so his death was a surprise. Only a year later, 16-year-old Sladjana Vidovic, a Croatian immigrant, was picked on verbally and physically assaulted at Mentor High because of her "funny name," her accent, and her "difference." Unlike Eric, Sladjana was vocal about her distress. Her parents made unending trips to the school asking for help, and Sladjana spent a part of almost every day in the nurse's office and crying by herself in a bathroom. So it wasn't a surprise when she hung herself in her bedroom. Through interviews with family members, other kids, some experts, a lawyer, and a reporter and excerpts from school records (with names redacted), Lambert portrays Mentor High School personnel as chilling. And her depictions of Eric and Sladjana are devastating. Lambert intercuts her heartbreaking moments with lots of landscapes and cityscapes, constantly reminding the viewer of the "every town" nature of Mentor and how close the city is to all the other suburban "100 Best Cities" in America.
Is it any good?
Alix Lambert does an effective job of showing what happened at Mentor High, who the bullying victims were and are, and how many lives were touched by the tragedies there. For the Mohat and Vicovic families, not only were there no happy endings, but their efforts to bring the tragedy into the light and to hope for better for other kids were stifled in every way. From the bullying girls who came to Sladjana's wake, laughed at the dress she was wearing in her coffin, and posted about its "ugliness" on MySpace; to the school counselor who shredded all her documents related to one student immediately after the death; to the lawyer who fought unsuccessfully to give the two families their day in court, in spite of stunning evidence; and, finally, to the refusal of any school official to be interviewed or even respond, it's all tragic. It's unimaginable that anyone could stay with Mentor through the closing credits without feeling overwhelmingly saddened and frustrated by what he or she has seen. Though Lambert does succeed in finally giving these families their day in the court of public opinion, it's relentlessly bleak. It tells the tale well but offers no positive perspective about how things can be made better; no family members get any relief from what they've suffered, and we don't know if there were any consequences paid or changes made in the school district's methodology.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about bullying as a subject that requires awareness on everyone's part. Have you been a witness to bullying? What steps can you take to help? Why do kids who go along with the bully or laugh at the situation play a part in the victim's distress?
The Mentor High School staff and the Mentor school board refused to be interviewed for this film. How did that fact influence your assessment of what you watched and heard? Do you think those people were well served by their decision? Why, or why not?
Make it your business to know how your school or community is dealing with bullying. What, if any, programs are in place to protect kids from bullying? How does your local school community handle those who have been identified as bullies?
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