Video: Perry students’ powerful short film aims for long-lasting impact

Submitted as an entry to a Speech contest, sophomores Sidney Vancil and Skylar Cunningham's 219 seconds of non-spoken dialogue is already generating widespread discussion.

Perry sophomores, from left, Sidney Vancil, Alyssa Kruger, Sadee Whitfield and Skylar Cunningham have already generated plenty of buzz recently. Kruger and Whitfield star in the anti-bullying "Trapped" a Speech project short film written, produced and directed by Vancil and Cunningham.

Every so often a comment, a photo, a song, an act — something of the sort — will come along and make a powerful statement about a difficult subject and do so in a way that has a lasting effect.

Such may just be the case with “Trapped,” a 3 minute, 39 second video created and produced by Perry High School sophomores Sidney Vancil and Skylar Cunningham.

The two friends are involved in Speech, which, at PHS, is an extra curricular activity open to all grades. Freshman English teacher Wendy Bollheofer serves as the coach for the program.

Bollheofer said Vancil and Cunningham approached her and said they wanted to enter the state contest in the category of “short film.”

“All I did was tell them the guidelines they would have to follow that all entries in the category must observe,” Bollheofer said. “I gave them a few small pieces of advice, but the girls did the rest — they chose the subject, wrote the script, filmed it, got everyone together, did the editing — the whole thing. When I saw the finished project, I was blown away, and everyone who has seen it and spoken to me about it has had the same reaction. Just incredible, and I am so proud of them.”

The film will be an entry at the District Speech competition Jan. 23 at Ballard High School. If it receives a “1” rating (on a scale of 1-3), it will advance to State Speech, where a second rating of “1” will earn the duo top honors.

The film, which is without spoken dialogue, covers the topic of bullying. Sophomore Sadee Whitfield plays the role of a girl from a poor family who is shunned and looked down upon by other girls from a wealthy and more “popular” clique.

Sophomore Alyssa Kruger plays the role of the “popular girl” who witnesses Whitfield being unfairly treated and befriends her. Kruger is the only girl to wear a dress in the film and is the only one in makeup, conscious choices made by Vancil and Cunningham to convey her status, as was the intentional decision to give Whitfield a more disheveled appearance.

Vancil said she and Cunningham chose to cover the topic of bullying because they are aware it is an ongoing issue for their peers, both at PHS and across the country.

“We wanted to have fun, of course, but the point of it was to show how bullying can happen so fast and in different ways,” Vancil remarked. “Skylar and I are happy with how it turned out and want to thank everyone who was in the film and everyone who helped us.”

Cunningham said the girls asked friends to appear in the film and received permission from PHS principal Dan Marburger to film in the school. Marburger opened the building on a Sunday, and the cast and crew filmed for several hours at PHS.

“We already had a script, so we knew where we wanted to film before we got here,” she said. “There were some scenes that were harder than others, and some we filmed a couple of times to make sure we had it the way we wanted, but it was mostly pretty easy.”

Cunningham did the filming of the piece, with Vancil acting as director and assuring everyone knew where to be and what to do.

Finding the two lead characters was relatively easy, Vancil said.

“We knew we wanted Alyssa (Kruger) to play the ‘popular girl’ role, and we knew Sadee (Whitfield) would be a great choice for the ‘homeless’ girl because she would take it seriously,” Vancil recalled. “They were both great.”

Whitfield said she was happy to take on the role of a girl who is unfairly picked on because she has personal experience dealing with the issue.

“I have friends who have had something like this happen to them, and I see it happening all the time at different levels,” she said. “I hope what we have done will make people stop and think. Sid and Skylar were great to work with, and I hope they go all the way at state (competition) with this.”

Kruger, who noted she normally wears little if any make-up, said she could feel the emotional power of the film while they were making it.

“It just felt so real, just like something that you know happens all the time and that you wish didn’t,” she explained. “I hope this makes people more aware of what goes on every day, and I hope it will make people think before they say or do something that could hurt someone.”

The decision to film without spoken dialogue was one Vancil said she and Cunningham had come to early on.

“We didn’t want it to distract from what we were trying to say,” she explained. “The same with the music. We wanted some instrumental music, probably a piano, to have some background noise, so I just went to Shutterfly and randomly looked for songs, and the one we used was actually the first one I heard. I said, ‘This is it!’ and that was all we needed to do.”

The silence screams in the film, with a perfect choice of a closing scene from Vancil and Cunningham capping the message of acceptance.

PHS Associate Principal Gary Czerniakowski said faculty and staff members who saw the film were so impressed that it will be shown at a district-wide Professional Development Day Monday, when the students are out for Martin Luther King Day.

“We already had someone coming to speak about bullying, and then this film came from out of nowhere,” he said. “I can see this having a real impact with anyone who watches it.”

Cunningham said she posted the film online Sunday at and was surprised to discover it had already been viewed more than 1,000 times in four days.

Vancil said she hopes the message she and Cunningham intended to deliver strikes a chord with students everywhere.

“We are proud of it, but the important thing is that it helps with the issue,” she said. “If one person is helped, it was worth it.”



  1. Thanks for this wonderful article!

    So proud of my daughter and her friends for taking this so seriously and making an amazing film. Love that there are boys and girls represented as well. Such a great group of kids and supportive faculty and staff.

  2. Kids get such a bad rap, and to see these girls do this terrific project proves there are great kids out there doing wonderful things. So proud to know Skylar and her parents and call them friends.

  3. As a former teacher of some of these student, I am thrilled at the commitment they have shown to make this world a better place. Bravo! I am so proud of all of you. You have become the leaders that I knew you would be and hope you reach your goals. This class always created high ones for themselves.

  4. Important issue. Glad to see that you are taking a stand. Recently I read a very well done article in the Iowa Humanities publication citing Perry and the Hispanic population in the town and schools. Using that fact could have made an even bigger statement to your production. Keep involved in the fight against bullying.

  5. Awesome video about a topic that has been swept under the rug until recently. As you know, bullying isn’t just physical. Sometimes it leaves invisible scars that can lead to suicide. A big thanks to my teacher friend in Iowa for sharing this. Maybe the Iowa Dept. of Education should receive a copy.

    A Naperville, Illinois, fan and formerly of Baxter, Iowa x


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