August 30, 2012 \ Geoff Birmingham
Two documentaries with the human touch

Airlines get a lot of grief for nickel-and-diming customers while simultaneously reducing services, but one thing I have to give them credit for is offering a pretty decent selection of free movies on the longer flights. While flying home from Europe last weekend, I was happily able to kill three hours of the nine-hour flight watching a couple of very good documentaries – Undefeated and Bully.

Films that are good often get me weepy. The guy crammed in next to me must have been wondering what the heck my problem was because, for a good chunk of the flight, I was sniffling next to him.

Bully. The filmmakers somehow managed to follow several kids, all victims of bullying, on the school bus, in their schools, and at their homes. Some of the footage they captured was pretty remarkable. Aren’t 13-year olds smart enough to know that if they punch, gouge, taunt and torment a fellow student on the school bus, and there’s a dude with a camera sitting behind them, that it could lead to some incriminating evidence against them?

Or maybe the bullies are smarter than we think, knowing that their behavior, which would lead to criminal charges if they were just a few years older, is often dismissed by the clueless adults in charge of protecting school kids’ safety.  One assistant principal scolds a victim after he refuses to shake hands with a bully. “You’re no better than him,” she chastises. “But I’m not the one throwing the punches,” he points out justifiably but to no avail.

Weepy Moments. 1) Seeing the parents grieve for children lost to suicide; 2) Listening to a 5th-grade boy describe what he admired about his friend, who also committed suicide.

Undefeated. Documentaries that revolve around sports lend themselves to compelling narratives. (A couple of my favorites: Hoop Dreams and Go Tigers!)  Undefeated fits the bill.  Bill Courtney volunteers to coach and, even more importantly, to mentor the Manassas High football team. The team is comprised largely of urban kids from broken homes. So his challenge is two-fold: turning the team from a losing one into a winning one; and teaching his kids about character and personal responsibility, both on the field and in life.

Weepy Moment. Courtney and players hugging and sharing tears at the end of a long and difficult season.