By Darla Shelden
Friends is a short film dealing with bullying and peer ostracism in school, which will be screened twice at this year’s deadCENTER Film Festival in Oklahoma City. The film is directed and edited by Edmond Memorial High School senior, Bunee Tomlinson.
In the film, Jacob, a shy fourth grader, tries to make friends at his new school, but his efforts are repeatedly rejected. At recess, he sees Tommy, another outsider, having similar problems. One simple act of kindness begins their friendship.
Screening times for Friends are Friday, June 8, at 8:15 pm, at Harkins Theatre 1,150 East Reno Ave. and Sunday, June 10, at 6:00pm, at the IAO Gallery, 706 West Sheridan in Oklahoma City.
Matt Carroll, Landon Simms, and Kelley Wyskiel delivered lead performances and several Oklahoma City elementary schools provided the talent for background extras. Friends was written by Patrick Freeman.
Bullying has a huge negative impact on kids. Tomlinson wants people to be proactive in stopping bullying in schools. The hope is that this film will be shown at film festivals across the country to spread its important message.
“Even small exclusionary acts can constitute a form of bullying even though it is not physically violent,” said Tomlinson. “By having Jacob who was bullied in a non-violent way and Tommy who suffered from a violent act come together, it shows the broad nature of bullying.”
When asked if he had ever been a victim of bullying himself Tomlinson said, “Yes, but not in the very extreme forms and super violent forms, but nonetheless, very hurtful to a person’s self image.”
This will be Tomlinson’s third year having films in the deadCenter festival.
“When you work a set with Bunee, you never realize that this brilliant director is still in high school,” said Wyskiel who portrayed the role of the teacher in Friends. “It’s rare to find a director that is not only amazingly talented, but also such a compassionate person who leads from the heart. He truly cares about the quality of his work, the skill of his actors and crew, and goes even further with the care and welfare of everyone on set, behind set, and even the supporters off set. His vision is truly amazing to watch as it unfolds.”
Tomlinson has directed and edited several award winning short films that have made it into festivals around the country and has worked on two feature length films.
Friends has screened in several festivals this year, most recently at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) in Seattle, and at Bare Bones Film Festival in Muskogee, where he earned a Best Director Award.
“What an honor it is to be part of a film, like Friends, that shows human compassion in the face of defeat and loneliness. We’ve all been there,” said Wyskiel. “The new kid, not knowing where you fit in, but desperately knowing that there’s a place, someplace, where you belong.”
Wyskiel, a member of the United Film-makers of Oklahoma, said, “Everyone is alone and insecure sometime, but everyone has the ability to reach out.”
According to his website, Tomlinson says, “I’m enthusiastic about many aspects of filmmaking including short films, music videos, documentaries, weddings, and commercials. I do everything I can to educate myself in all of these. And I’m always looking forward to my next trip or adventure, wherever that may be.”
Friends has already won recognition this year at the Bare Bones International Film Festival, Sierra Canyon Film Festival, Texas Film Festival, Lovett High School Film Fest and is part of the “Official Selection” at Oklahoma’s deadCenter film festival.
About his immediate plans for the future Tomlinson said, “I’m involved with two different projects both of which deal with school aged kids and the problems they face with physical and emotional challenges. I will also be attending the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain for two weeks in June for film and video.”