By Kevin Hogencamp/Jacksonville University

The Jacksonville University Sociology Club will premiere “Bully,” award-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch’s documentary describing the life-altering torment and despair of children and families affected by bullying in American schools, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, in Terry Concert Hall.

There is no charge; doors open at 6:30 p.m. The film’s showing will be followed by a discussion hosted by the Sociology Club, whose members also have tackled the bullying issue at local high schools. The premiere is co-sponsored by the Junior League of Jacksonville and Mental Health America, and JU’s Gay-Straight Alliance, Active Minds, and TRiO Support Services also are participating.

Bullying is a vicious action that the filmmaker and sociologists say has gone appallingly unchecked by school officials and governing authorities. The film gives a voice to parents whose children’s suicides were the direct results of bullying, and exposes the despair and personal struggles of children who heroically open up to Hirsch.

“We are thrilled to be able to host this event and make an impact on the lives of those who are the victims of bullying,” said Sociology Club President Kyla Faye Wade. “Our goal for this event is both to raise awareness of the prevalence and severity of bullying in our society as well as to encourage people to get involved in helping to bring an end to this issue. We plan to help those who are passionate about helping find a way to contribute in our community.”

Last year, the Sociology Club and Junior League hosted a successful screening of “Miss Representation,” a documentary that exposes the media’s underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.

“Conveniently, the film ‘Bully’ was presented to us as an idea by the Junior League of Jacksonville ...,” Wade said. “We loved the idea and were happy to work with the Junior League again. They have been extremely supportive in the process and helped sponsor the cost of buying the rights to the film. Mental Health America has also been extremely encouraging and graciously helped sponsor part of the cost of our event T-shirts.”

Sarah Willson, the Sociology Club secretary, said that JU students’ participating in local high school Challenge Day workshops, which helps students break down barriers by promoting and understanding acceptance, has been eye-opening and, in some cases, life-changing. An estimated 13 million children in the U.S. are bullied annually.

“We started discussing the movie right around when school started and we felt like this area needed to be addressed …” she said. “Our goal is to raise awareness for bullying and see if we can help out in our community by organizing anti-bullying campaigns,” she said.

“Bully” follows students from schools in Georgia, Mississippi, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma during the 2009-10 school year. It also follows their families, focusing on the deaths of two bullying victims who committed suicide

Reviews for the film have been rave; the movie critic aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes says 86 percent of reviews have been positive.

“Hard-hitting and gracefully filmed, ‘Bully’ powerfully delivers an essential message to an audience that may not be able to see it,” Rotten Tomatoes says of the film.

Learn more about the “Bully” premiere on Facebook or by e-mailing Sarah Willson.

Click here to watch the movie trailer.