By Tessa Raebeck
Bullying has come to the forefront of the national dialogue in recent years, but it’s always been a constant among seventh graders.
“We really wanted to take a stand against bullying,” said Olivia Corish, a seventh grader at Pierson Middle School, whose latest short film, “A Cry for Help,” has made waves as a statement against both being a bully and being a bystander.
Through the film, which was shot entirely on her iPhone and edited using Final Cut Pro, Olivia called on her classmates to be “upstanders,” or someone who “steps in and says you’ve gotta stop,” she said Tuesday.
In the film, shot at Pierson, a young girl played by Anna Schiavoni, Olivia’s best friend and go-to lead actor, traverses the school day as best she can, but is frequently intercepted by a herd of bullies as she navigates the halls.
Playing the “victim,” Anna’s character struggles when she has a sign saying “Loser” taped to her back, is not picked for a sports team in gym class and is first forgotten and later ridiculed when another girl is passing out invitations to her party. As she tries to get through the day, the victim is laughed at, pushed or completely isolated. Even taking a sip of water is dangerous, as a passerby shoves her head into the fountain.
Shot in black and white, the YouTube film is reminiscent of the silent films of the 1920s. There is no dialogue, only sad music, “I’m in Here” by Sia Furler and Sam Dixon.
In one scene, the victim is putting on lip gloss in the bathroom at Pierson as one of the bullies looks on. A dialogue frame pops onto the screen with words said by the bully, “Why are you wearing lip gloss? It’s not going to make you look any prettier.”
The decision to keep the film silent was in part logistical, as play practice was going on at Pierson while the film was shot, and audio “can be really hard,” Olivia said, but it was also symbolic.
“We also thought that our video shouldn’t be dominated by words. It’s kind of the small things that hurt,” Olivia said. “It’s the silent things—like maybe someone just bumping into you or laughing behind your back—and we thought that that really didn’t need any words to describe it.”
The turning point in the film comes when the lip gloss bully is confronted by the “hero,” played by Gabriella Knab, who serves as the story’s upstander.
The inspiration for the hero upstander came from a tolerance and anti-bullying conference Olivia and other Pierson students attended at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove.
Every year, the center invites student leaders from across Long Island to participate in the half-day conference, at which they hear from a keynote speaker, then break into small groups to exchange ideas and action plans of how to combat bullying and prejudice in their schools.
“We try to be [upstanders],” Anna said Tuesday.
“As much as possible,” added Olivia.
“A Cry for Help” premiered May 10 at the inaugural Young Filmmakers’ Festival at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton. In the weeks since, it has received 135 views on YouTube and has been widely shared by Sag Harbor parents on Facebook.
Anna and Olivia, however, are more concerned with the tangible response to the film’s message they have seen in school.
“They have really loved it,” Olivia said of her classmates. “I think it really inspired a lot of them to take a stand against the small bullying that happens.”
Anna said she too has been inspired by her role as the victim in the film.
After a school year of watching a certain bully in her class pick on another student, stealing his food and being generally unpleasant, she decided to step in. Anna asked the victim whether he enjoys having his food stolen, to which he replied no (perhaps unsurprisingly).
“He was like, ‘No, not really, but I think it’s just one of those things that you let happen,’” she recalled. “And I’m like, ‘No. You’re not supposed to let that happen.’”
During the class period in which his food is traditionally stolen, the day Anna spoke up, the boy instead reportedly said to his bully, “Actually, I think I want to eat my food today.”
As of Tuesday, the bully was no longer asking him for food.
“And now it stops, like in my film,” Olivia said of her friend’s story. “Just like that.”
FILM URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=An_ZDfsr_pg