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A spotlight on the slighted

Two documentaries — one about American high school, one about a European minority — address human rights at Newport festival.

April 28, 2014|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • "Mentor," a documentary by Alix Lambert, explores multiple teen suicides in Mentor, Ohio, revealing the consequences of bullying. Pictured here is Sladjana Vidovic.
"Mentor," a documentary by Alix Lambert,… (Daily Pilot )

The threats came quickly.

Alix Lambert had only just released a trailer about "Mentor" when she began getting unwanted attention by way of tweets, emails and YouTube messages.

The director, nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for the HBO series "Deadwood," was attempting to raise money to finish producing her latest documentary, but residents of Mentor, Ohio saw things differently.

Local students and community members criticized Lambert and insinuated illegal bodily harm, claiming that she was dredging up the past. While some lauded her efforts, most others wrote things like "Choke on it," "You better hope we don't find you," "We're going to shove this up your [expletive]."

"When an entire student body is sending threatening tweets to a filmmaker in New York and the film isn't even out yet, that's a problem," she remarked. "It serves as evidence that the problem didn't go away and is an illustration of what's happening in Mentor."

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Although CNNMoney.com ranked the city 68th among the "Top 100 Best Places to Live in America" in 2006 and 37th in 2010, an ominous undercurrent apparently lurks in the idyllic suburb on the south shore of Lake Erie.

The 79-minute movie, which will premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival at 5 p.m. Monday, explores the experiences of the Mohat and Vidovic families, whose children, Eric and Sladjana, were tortured endlessly and, ultimately, committed suicide to escape the daily grind. By interviewing Dorothy Espelage, an educational psychologist and expert on peer aggression, attorney Ken Myers and others, "Mentor" also claims negligence on the part of guidance counselors, principals, teachers, cafeteria workers and security guards.

Lambert, 45, recalled reading the press surrounding the deaths of both teenagers and the subsequent lawsuits filed by their parents against the school district. Neither family is demanding compensation. Rather, they want Mentor High School administrators to instill a sorely needed anti-bullying program.

"I'm interested in storytelling and, in terms of documentaries, in stories that don't otherwise get told, really," she said. "It's not specifically about just the two families involved. It's about the entire community and the culture of conformity that exists there. A lot of my work deals with looking at larger stories of communities and how we live with each other. I don't think we have one person to blame. I think it's a complex set of problems that needs to be dealt with systemically."

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