‘A Brave Heart’ documents Velasquez’s anti-bullying odyssey
May 20, 2016
Lizzie Velasquez’s story is an empowering one.
The 26-year-old suffers from a rare syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight and she has been bullied throughout her life.
The game changer happened a few years ago when someone posted Velasquez’s photo on YouTube and voted her the World’s Ugliest Woman, according to Park City Film Series Executive Director Katharine Wang.
"Instead of taking the track that some people may do like hiding away and letting that person devastate her, she, which I think is so important, turned it around and began telling the world that this isn’t the story she wanted out there," Wang said during a joint interview with Lauren Vitulli of the Park City Community Foundation’s Women’s Giving Fund, and United Against Bullying Coalition’s investigator Christina Sally. "Lizzie wanted people to know what happened to her was not OK, so she started an online video blog and did a TED talk and has traveled around the world, telling her story."
Velasquez’s odyssey is told in Sara Hirsh Bordo’s documentary "A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story" that the Park City Film Series will screen for free in partnership with the Women’s Giving Fund and United Against Bullying at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium on Wednesday, May 25.
The screening, which is part of the Park City Film Series’ Reel Community Series, will start at 6:30 p.m. and will be followed by a Q & A session with Sally.
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The idea for the screening started with the Women’s Giving Fund and its mentoring program, according to Vitulli.
The program has two parts.
"The first is to match Women’s Giving Fund members with different nonprofits that need volunteers and the other half is to go into Ecker Hill Middle School and mentor sixth and seventh grade girls," Vitulli said. "We do that through power lunches and we bring various women speakers in to talk about their careers and then they give the girls some life lessons.
"It turns out the girls who are in these grades are vulnerable and are being discouraged to attend classes such as science and math," she said. "We want to keep them motivated and inspired."
The mentoring program is also working on a kindness project to help kids not only do acts of kindness, but to also be aware and more observant of those acts.
"We would give out a kindness award for anything from what Ecker Hill calls an ‘Upstander,’ where you help someone who is being bullied, to just going over and talking to someone who doesn’t have a friend, or someone who is new to the school," Vitulli said.
So, when one of the Women’s Giving Fund members who is interested in film wanted to bring a film to Park City, Vitulli contacted Wang.
"We thought the best thing to do was to partner with the Park City Film Series, because Katy knows everything about this and there are a lot of pieces to put together," Vitulli explained. "We wanted to show something meaningful, something that would tie into our mentoring program."
Wang brought up "A Brave Heart," which was introduced to her by Sharon Anderson Morris, managing director of FiReFilms, a documentary film component of Future In Review, an organization that hosts an annual conference that explores new technology and the economy.
"It was one of those great films that you put in the back of your mind because you want to show it with the right connections," Wang said. "It’s a stand-up-for-yourself story, but also addresses the bystander effect, which is so prevalent in cyber bullying."
The effect happens when one person posts something mean and others will feel that’s a license to also start writing mean posts.
"That’s why we wanted to bring in the bullying component to this, because it’s not just about bullying, but allowing bullying to happen," Wang said. "It’s about how you stop it and the film, in a very subtle and digestible way, addresses that issue."
After talking with Vitulli, Wang suggested other films as well.
"We talked about a couple of films that would spark people’s imaginations, but we wanted to show a film that people could attach themselves to as a family event," Wang said. "So, all the pieces came together."
Vitulli was sold immediately.
"We saw that ‘A Brave Heart’ would really tie into the Women’s Giving Fund mentoring program as well as the kindness awards," she said. "Then when Christina came on board to talk about anti-bullying, it all came together perfectly."
Sally is looking forward to her involvement with the event and hopes to clear up some misconceptions about bullying.
"There are people who think bullying is a normal part of growing up and that it’s been happening for years," she said. "The problem is with this new technology, bullying has taken on a whole new form."
That means parents need to learn some anti-bullying lessons as well.
"One of the things that we do today is put a tremendous burden on our children to take care of themselves where bullying is concerned, and yet, as adults, we have a responsibility to behave and talk in a way that isn’t perceived as bullying in front of children," Sally said. "Even if you casually say a negative thing about your neighbor, children don’t necessarily have the cognitive development to put those words in the right context. I’m grateful to Katy and Lauren for pulling this together."
Although the screening is free, children’s book donations will be accepted.
The books will be give to PC Tots, a nonprofit, affordable extended day care that serves working families in Park City, Vitulli said.
"PC Tots is a project that came up through the Women’s Giving Fund," she said. "Since the screening was going to be free, we thought about doing a suggested donation of a children’s book. So, we are accepting books in both English and Spanish or in both."
The Park City Film Series, Park City Community Foundation’s Women’s Giving Fund and United Against Bullying Coalition will host a free screening of Sara Hirsh Bordo’s documentary "A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story" not rated, at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium, 1255 Park Ave., on Wednesday, May 25, at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit wwwparkcityfilmseries.com.
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