• Mike Feurstein on set in the DON'T WAIT® to UnMake a Bully residency program. (Supplied)
"We can inspire others to change for the better; we can help those who need it; we can make a difference by sharing our own stories and working with others to find solutions.”
By
Chloe Sargeant

17 Mar 2017 - 3:19 PM  UPDATED 17 Mar 2017 - 3:19 PM

On Australia's National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence, it's important to think about not only how we can eradicate bullying, but also how we can better support those who have experienced bullying first-hand in the past and present, and help them speak about their experiences. But how do we effectively do that?

A group from the US has an successful, unique and inherently positive method: their DON'T WAIT® to UnMake a Bully program lets students speak for themselves through the art of filmmaking.

The passionate group works with students aged eight-to-18 to help them create their own Public Service Announcement-type films about their experiences, and to make powerful and influential media on the serious issue of bullying.

It began after filmmaker Mike Feurstein was asked by Glendaal Elementary in New York to make a three-minute sketch for a character education assembly.

“Three minutes turned into thirty, and became [the first chapter of the film series] How to UnMake A Bully - the students had so many stories, and such drive for the project," Feurstein tells SBS. 

Feurstein's film project continued to evolve, showing the experiences of the same core group of students from fourth grade up to high school. It eventually got to its fifth chapter before a parent from NY asked Feurstein if he would do a short residency at her child’s school, working with fifth-grade students to create short PSA movies in the same style as the ‘How to UnMake A Bully’ films. After that, Feurstein teamed up with Lisa Bradshaw’s non-for-profit DON'T WAIT® Project, and created the DON'T WAIT® to UnMake a Bully residency program for schools.

The program gives the power to the students when making their film – working with the Unmake a Bully team, the students become the writers, directors, camera operators, set designers, actors, sound and lighting techs – and much more. They draw from their own experiences in order to create something they believe will influence their peers and help eradicate bullying from not only their own school, but all schools.

While the end result is a fantastic filmed portrayal of students’ actual lived experiences, the company believes that the experience of actually working on the PSA will also have long-lasting and hugely positive effects for each student. While one measure to stop bullying is locally changing regulations to protect the affected, a long-term goal should also be teaching students (both targets and perpetrators) fundamental life skills to mediate, listen, communicate and resolve conflict.

"It gives them hope, it shapes their minds and helps them understand what kind of impacts they can make (positive or negative) on the world."

“Many [students] feel that, as directors, they "finally had everyone listen to them", or as actors they "showed everyone what they felt like on the inside” [.] To others it was a glimpse into the world of filmmaking and possible future careers. It gives them hope, it shapes their minds and helps them understand what kind of impacts they can make (positive or negative) on the world. They see how every task, every job is important, and that collaboration and communication is key," says Feurstein.

Feurstein tells SBS that the program has an impact on every type of student, regardless if they are the bullied, the bully or the bystander: “the targets of bullying feel stronger, retain more skills to deal with situations, and very often showcase talents no one knew they had...and new respect is formed!"

"Our serials show [students] how powerful they can be as bystanders, and give them options on how to get involved.

"We have also witnessed people who bully as they stand up on chairs and declare their apologies to the class, vowing to change. We've seen them portray the person who bullies in their movies, and have to repeat the same awful things to the other characters. We can talk objectively about it, without [them becoming] defensive, and slowly they realise that their own actions mirror the characters. They look at their impact from the outside, and many understand how they need to change.”

"We have also witnessed people who bully as they stand up on chairs and declare their apologies to the class, vowing to change."

DON'T WAIT® to UnMake a Bully is in its fourth year now, and has worked in schools across New York and Washington state. The PSA series that has been created has now screened all over the world, and even showed at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth in the US.

Now, Feurstein has now brought his distinctive and forward-thinking plan for eradicating bullying in schools to Australia, having already worked with Sholem Aleichem College in Melbourne – the video created there can be watched below.

Feurstein will be back in Melbourne soon to create an “anthological piece with some sci-fi and comedy to it: kids trapped in a lift, telling stories about bullying to pass the time”, and is also visiting a school in Wellington, New Zealand for the first time this year. Feurstein tells SBS, “We are always looking for new schools in new places with which to partner and produce material straight from the student's experiences. They become the cast and the crew, and it's wonderful to see!”

in the future, he hopes to continue to expand the program across the world, and continue to spread the anti-bullying message: “That we can inspire others to change for the better; that we can help those who need it; that we can make a difference by sharing our own stories and working with others to find solutions.”

“We can inspire others to change for the better; we can help those who need it; we can make a difference by sharing our own stories and working with others to find solutions.”

The UnMake A Bully films are viewable on Youtube, and the PSA films and behind-the-scenes footage created in the DON'T WAIT®​ to UnMake a Bully residency school program are available via the DON'T WAIT®​ website

March 17 is the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence in Australia. For more information, click here. Follow #BullyingNoWay and #NDA2017 on social media.

If you are in need of support or having issues at school that you want to talk about, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or click here for more information. 

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