Award-winning student film explores teen’s cyberbullying experience

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

A top honor for a high school junior from Bayonne. David Mansour’s short film won first prize at the 2017 AT&T Film Awards. Correspondent Michael Hill spoke with him about the film he shot and edited within 24 hours and why he focused on cyberbullying.

Hill: David Mansour, congratulations on the film and winning the award. Tell me this, what inspired you to make a film like this?

Mansour: Well, cyberbullying is something that is very rarely addressed, even though it’s so prominent. We hear about things like suicide, and suicide it’s not just a tragedy you hear about on the news, suicide is becoming an epidemic that’s spreading so quickly. And, there’s so minimal efforts to help that out, to help the situation out. I feel like it’s great when we have adults that are trying to propose solutions as well, but when you have a teenager, someone that relates on the same level as you, making a film of this such, it’s a lot more impactful.

Hill: And what were you being bullied about?

Mansour: I feel like every teenager could speak to this as well. I was personally bullied after certain successes, some small awards that I’ve won. There are always people that don’t want to see you succeed, that’s normal. I had a battle combating that, but at the end, you have to know how to solve that and who your real friend are, which is something that a lot of people struggle with nowadays.

Hill: You mention suicide. You didn’t consider suicide, did you?

Mansour: No, I did not. Simply because I see suicide … it’s the easy way out and it’s something that, if you look at it logically, you could do so much more with your life. Your life is so precious and you are here for a reason. I wouldn’t throw that away.

Hill: What was the connect for you? You underwent cyberbullying and then you decided to make a film. What was it about cyberbullying that said, I should do something about this more than just absorbing this and suffering from this?

Mansour: See, there are bystanders and upstanders. We need more upstanders in the world because, as I said, it’s a problem that is so prominent now. Who’s going to solve that problem? We need a lot more leaders and a lot more people that are willing to solve these problems. We need problem solvers. It’s not just a math problem or an English question on your test, this is a real life thing and it’s a real world problem that you can solve. Anybody can solve it.

Hill: The target audience were your classmates or beyond?

Mansour: The target audience at first was actually classmates, teenagers, people of my generation, my age group. But I uploaded it online and what I saw were people of all ages, they started relating. And what I realized is that it’s something that everybody goes through. A lot of people go through cyberhate in general, if bullying is too vague. Cyberhate, everybody receives that form of negativity online, no matter who you are. You could be the best person in the world, someone will always find something negative to say. And what we have to do is combat that.

Hill: What difference do you think your film is making at school and in general about this topic, cyberbullying?

Mansour: Actually, I got an anonymous message from a student at my school and they said that it actually helped them stray away from suicide. And when I heard that, I felt like I’ve really met my goal. When you hear something like that, that you made a difference, that just encourages you to keep going, too. Because that is the ultimate job that you could have, to help your community and to help others.

Hill: You put in the film a phone call and the caller said, ‘you’re an amazing guy.’ And you said near the end of that phone call in the film that ‘she was right.’ What was she right about?

Mansour: She was right about the fact that you are a great person. There’s always something great about you. Everybody has their qualities. Everybody has good qualities and bad qualities, but what you have to do is magnify those good qualities. And the bad qualities, it’s OK if you have them, but make sure that those bad qualities don’t define you. You choose what defines you, and you choose to let your good qualities define you, as well.

Hill: How do you do that in a high school atmosphere, and even in a college atmosphere to a certain extent? In high school there’s a lot of peer pressure. Kids can easily become targets of cyberbullying. But how do you make that distinction? What do you do to say, ‘I’m not going to pay attention to this, I’m not going to let this have a negative impact on me.’ How do you handle that?

Mansour: You have to think things logically, as well. The friend that’s picking on you now, will they really affect you 10 years down the line? Let’s say, for example, you have a girlfriend now. Will your girlfriend get you a house in 1o years? Will she get you a job in 10 years? Probably not. What teenagers have to do is they have to start thinking long-term. Especially in our society where everything’s technological and everything’s based on short-term goals, we have to start thinking more expansively.

Hill: And are your classmates doing that now, do you think?

Mansour: I’m happy to say yes. A lot of my classmates, the positivity, it starts as like a drop in a river. A small drop, but it keeps spreading, and spreading and spreading as time goes on. What you see is people, when they see someone else being good, they copy that.

Hill: Quickly, tell me your next film project. I know you’re working on something else.

Mansour: My next film project, I’m actually shooting on Wednesday, it’s about distracted driving and it’s for Toyota’s film competition. It’s something that we don’t really pay attention to. When you hear distracted driving, you think of, let’s say texting and driving, or drinking and driving, or blasting music when you’re driving. One thing that we don’t think about is when you’re tired and you’re driving. Just because you have coffee or Red Bull doesn’t mean that you’re safe to drive. You’re still distracted by sleep, essentially.

Hill: When’s that film coming out?

Mansour: This should be coming out by the end of this week or next week, the latest.