COLUMBIA — After reading articles about young adults committing suicide because of bullying, Steph Borklund recalled her own bullying experience in high school.
"I remember being bullied in high school," said Borklund, an assistant film professor at Stephens College. "I was called a derogatory term at a track meet, and my friend stood up for me. Twenty-five years later and we're still the best of friends."
That type of support is what Borklund hopes to show in her newest film, "I Am One." It's about how a high school baseball star learns to protect his childhood friend, a closeted lesbian, from being bullied by his teammate.
According to 2009 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 28 percent of children have been bullied. Middle school students are at the highest risk, with more than 30 percent of children being bullied.
Borklund, whose past work includes documentaries as well as corporation and industry films, wrote "I am One" about a year and a half ago; she has been working with Kate Berneking Kogut, an assistant professor in creative writing at Stephens, to write the script and produce it. Borklund started filming Saturday in private homes and at Rock Bridge High School and will finish Wednesday.
For leading actors Dominic Franceschelli, Annie Coleman and Nehemiah Deason, bullying evokes strong feelings.
"I've played roles of being the bully and being the bullied," Franceschelli said. "I have a big way for how people are being treated. I just want to help others to get through situations like this."
The filmmakers' main goal is to empower young adults to take a stand.
"This film is put into a story, not statistics," Kogut said. "We are hoping that people will connect to the characters and identify with them."
Borklund said she went for the short film style, about 15 minutes, so it would be easier for schools to show in the classroom.
Stephens College has helped finance the film; the college allows tenure-track professors to apply for funding for scholarly activities, said Annette Digby, vice president of academic affairs. The college also provided space for a fundraising event and is helping get the word out about the project.
" 'I Am One' will add significantly to the awareness of bullying, including negative effects and prevention strategies," Digby wrote in an email. "An independent film is also a medium with the potential of reaching large audiences of all ages."
Borklund wants the film's message to spark an open dialogue about bullying. She also wants to travel with the film to spread its message. She expects the film to be released by the start of 2014.
"I hope it makes a change," Borklund said. "It could be what starts the domino effect and encourage others to do the right thing."
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.