Directed by: Alix Lambert
Between 2005 and 2010, five students from Mentor High School in Mentor, Ohio committed suicide. The one common thread between them was the suspicion that bullying played some role in these cases. So what happened in this town (one that was ranked one of the best places in America to live in the United States) and school that contributed to the repeated loss of young life? Documentary filmmaker Alix Lambert seeks and discovers some truly shocking answers in the fantastic “Mentor.”
The film focuses mainly on the two subjects whose families brought suits against the school district, Eric Mohat and Sladjana Vidovic. Much of the film is told from the perspective of the parents, done so through the usage of powerful and intimate interviews. In Eric’s case, he was relentlessly physically and verbally teased, most frequently by way of gay slurs. His parents were generally unaware of the bullying, and it eventually became too much for him to handle. Through these interviews, we get not only a portrait into who Eric was, but the issues of bullying and the conditions in Mentor both at the school and in the town through the eyes of a family who have lost a child. In one of many heart-breaking segments of the film, Eric’s mother describes that on the day Eric took his life, one of his tormentors said “Why don’t you go home and shoot yourself, it’s not like anyone would notice.” Eric did just that.
The case of Sladjana is a little different. The Vidovic family moved out of Croatia when war broke out on the day of Sladjana’s birth. As they moved to Mentor to find a better life, they found themselves almost immediately out of place. Much like Eric, Sladjana faced daily physical and verbal abuse, with many students making fun of her accent or name, having things thrown at her and even being pushed down the stairs by a football player. After a while, it became too much and Sladjana hung herself from her bedroom window. The difference in this case? Sladjana’s parent’s knew about all of it. In the most frustrating parts of the film, Sladjana’s parents describe, through the use of subtitles, the measures that they tried to take to get the school to do something. There were repeated visits to the administration, trips to outside counseling and treatment facilities, and her mother herself even told the school that she was afraid that her daughter might kill herself. It is here where Lambert pounces as a filmmaker. Through a brilliant use of on-screen graphics, Lambert shows various records including e-mail exchanges, counseling logs and nurses visits showing how clear the signs were that Sladjana was crying out for help. That isn’t even scratching the surface as the true ineptitude of Mentor High School and how they continuously ignored the pleas for help needs to be seen to be believed.
It is hard to call “Mentor” anything other than an extremely important film and a potential conversation starter. Not only is it a portrait of these teenagers and the suffering they endured at the hands of these bullies, but a very well-made exploration into what bullying looks like in this current generation and of course, the appalling procedural follies that took place. Even beyond that, it is a moving and honest look at bullying pushed to its furthest limits and the aftermath families face when they so tragically lose a child. Lambert should be commended for shining a light directly on Mentor High School and taking bold strokes, none bolder than a decision to end the film with a visualization of Sladjana’s detailed suicide note. It is the perfect punctuation to a truly horrible story and affective without being manipulative, a line that Lambert adeptly toes throughout the film. It is nearly impossible to not feel something during “Mentor,” whether it be immense sadness for the loss of such promising lives, or anger at the injustices that have occurred. It may be a little less effective when it puts the town of Mentor as a whole under the microscope, but “Mentor” is a stirring case study into the bullying problem in the country and essential viewing for parents, teachers and school administrators.