Archive for the ‘Testimonials’ Category

Shaping Youth and Amy Jussel

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Amy Jussel, founder of wrote about us today on her blog based on an interview we had. We are flattered. We have been so busy preparing for auditions we were blown away by her thoughtful and generous account of our project. You can read her article here

Here’s the blurb about her non-profit: Shaping Youth, a new nonprofit consortium of media and marketing professionals concerned about harmful messages to children. S.Y. uses tools & techniques of industry insiders to flip creative content in a healthier direction. Her counter-marketing workshops have been a huge hit with kids and adults alike and will launch to the public soon.

Parents, teachers and friends check out her wonderful blog! They promote a fantastic mission; we are so lucky to have people like Amy doing this type of work!

Eugene Award for Best Short Film for a Young Audience

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

Adina’s Deck was honored with the award for Best Short Film for a Young Audience, 2008 by the Eugene, Oregon International Film Festival! We want to thank Mike Dilley, President and Director of the Festival for organizing this fantastic event. We were so disappointed we couldn’t make it (as it conflicted with the Kid’s First Film awards of which we’d previously committed to attending).

This plaque is gorgeous! Thank you again Mike, and Congratulations Ep. 1 Cast & Crew!



Edutopia Article: Cinema vs. Cyberbullies: Using Filmmaking to Fight Online Harassment

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

Thanks so much to Suzie Boss for writing this great article. You can read the entire article here:

Cinema vs. Cyberbullies: Using Filmmaking to Fight Online Harassment

By Suzie Boss

When Debbie Heimowitz talks about cyberbullying at school assemblies or presents training events for teachers, she speaks with authority. She knows the statistics. She understands the potential for real harm if bullies use the anonymity of technology to gang up on their victims.

But she doesn’t just emphasize scary stories. “I want kids to feel empowered online,” she says. “I want them to know that they can learn about technology and use it to do cool things. I want them to see role models, other kids using technology to help their friends. And if cyberbullying is happening, I want them to know that they can go to someone for help.”

To get across her dual message of empowerment and awareness, Heimowitz has created an engaging thirty-minute film and supporting resources designed to foster better-informed conversation about cyberbullying. Adina’s Deck stars four middle school girls who become cybersleuths to solve an online bullying mystery. They combine the bravado of Nancy Drew with the tech savvy of Silicon Valley veterans as they figure out who is behind a string of anonymous text messages, phone calls, and Web posts that take an increasingly threatening tone.

Heimowitz, who developed Adina’s Deck in 2007 while she was a graduate student in education at Stanford University, told me she didn’t start with a focus on cyberbullying. Her original idea, she recalls with a laugh, “was a fourth-grade project about the gold rush, a topic I found fascinating!” But conversations with a school counselor and with her mother, a middle school special education teacher, opened her eyes.

Heimowitz was surprised to learn that cyberbullying is a problem at her old middle school and at many other schools. “I thought bullying was only about boys beating up other boys,” she admits. But as she dug into the research and did additional surveys at schools serving diverse populations in the Bay Area, she learned that cyberbullying is a growing concern that cuts across genders, age groups, and socioeconomic levels.

An organization called i-SAFE conducted a survey of students in grades 4-8 and found that 42 percent of them have been bullied online and 53 percent have said “something mean or hurtful” to another person online. What’s more, most kids keep the experience to themselves; 58 percent of children who have been bullied on the Web victims admit that they did not tell their parents or another adult about the incidents.

Making a film to raise awareness about the issue was an obvious choice for Heimowitz. She studied film as an undergraduate at the University of California of Berkeley and then spent three years working in Hollywood. Her long-term goal is to create films with the production quality of the big-name studios but with an educational message that will engage students and address teachers’ learning goals.

To make sure Adina’s Deck resonated with her target audience, Heimowitz went straight to the source: middle school girls. Through Citizen Schools, a San Francisco Bay Area after-school program she has volunteered for, Heimowitz recruited a focus group of girls for a ten-week apprenticeship in filmmaking. They acted as script consultants, providing feedback that gave the film the ring of authenticity. They even suggested cool names for the characters — Skye, Melody, Clara, and Adina — and helped develop the four personas.

Although cyberbullying affects both boys and girls, Heimowitz deliberately cast girls as the ones with technology smarts. In one scene, the characters start to unravel the mystery by figuring out the IP address of a computer used to build an anonymous Web site, which the cyberbully is using to harass the “popular” girl, Skye. “We had some very tech-savvy people help us to make sure that sequence is completely realistic,” Heimowitz explains.

Most teens, she admits, are not quite so conversant with how computers work. Nor are most schools as full of technology as the one on this movie set, where kids move fluidly from a wireless laptop to text messaging on cell phones. The hyped-up technology use is deliberate, Heimowitz says. “We wanted to show an example of girls who can navigate their way around the Internet like any expert in Silicon Valley.” (And she is delighted when audiences pick Adina, “the smart one” of the foursome, as their favorite character.)

When she shows the film, kids often ask her, “Can we really figure out all that stuff?” Heimowitz notes, “That’s one of the things about cyberbullying: Kids don’t realize we can catch the bully. It opens their eyes to the fact that this is not as anonymous as they might think.”

Generating real-time conversations about cyberbullying is one of the best ways to address the problem. Childnet International, based in the United Kingdom, takes a similar approach with its film, Let’s Fight It Together, in which a teen boy is the target of cyberbullying. Both the film and a discussion guide for teachers are available online.

Meanwhile, Heimowitz and her Adina’s Deck crew are about to take on new adventures: Two more films are in the pipeline. One will address online relationships and predators, and the other will focus on plagiarism and cheating. Both will have a detective story line, with the girls from the original film, plus a new boy character, on the case.

Has cyberbullying been an issue at your school? How have you addressed it? Please share your thoughts.

Izzy Neis's Blog!

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

Thanks so much to Izzy Neis for her shout out to Adina’s Deck on her blog today!  Her blog is a must read for anyone interested in online communities, internet safety, youth media… etc.!! Check it out by clicking here!

San Jose Mercury News Article about Cyber Bullying

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

Adina’s Deck was mentioned in this article, “Bullies in cyberspace create a new kind of teenage hell.” The original article can be found here.

Annoyed with a friend, three South Bay high school boys thought up a practical joke. They placed an ad in his name soliciting sex with men, listing his home phone number, and hacked into his MySpace profile, changing it to claim he was gay. Callers seeking sex reached the 15-year-old’s younger sister and mother at his home. The student – mortified, angry and distraught – ended up dropping out of school. Although the Internet has woven teens into extensive virtual communities, when harnessed for cruelty it also has become a powerful tool for harassment. Now, educators and parents are scrambling to catch up with young people whose online socializing includes playing pranks and seeking revenge.

The steady rise of so-called cyberharassment has school officials looking at redrawing the lines that determine when and how to get involved in disputes that originate off campus.

“It’s hard for all of us old people to keep up with these digital natives. That is especially difficult when you’re in a position of responsibility for the well-being of kids,” said Nancy Willard of Eugene, Ore., an expert on children and cybersafety.

Harassment online can take many forms, from sending threatening messages to impersonating someone to posting gossip or secrets. It appears to be most common among middle-school students, especially girls, experts say.

“It happens in those in-between years where everyone’s social life depends on the Internet,” said Mekkin Bjarnadottir, 14, a freshman at Cupertino High School. “It’s easier to say things when you’re online, when you’re not listening to someone’s voice or not talking face-to-face.”

The anonymity of the Internet, and its instant and wide reach, offer temptations to mischief – even to people who normally wouldn’t physically bully someone.

“It gives you a cloak of invisibility,” said Jo Ann Allen, the safe-schools coordinator for schools in the area from Santa Clara to Monterey counties. “The person who could be bullying you over the airwaves may be acting like your best friend at school.”

The results can be devastating to the victim – and can spawn a retaliatory cycle, she said.

In the case of the 15-year-old, school officials working with police found the teen culprits, who were tried and sentenced to probation and community service. They also had to write an essay about the pain they caused.

Awareness about cyberbullying shot up nationwide following news reports about a Missouri teen who hanged herself after being teased and denigrated online. In November, prosecutors declined to file charges against her tormentors, who turned out to be a neighboring trio – a mother, her daughter and her employee – posing as a fictitious boy.

“The Internet is the new bathroom wall” – the virtual place kids scrawl something when they want to be mean, said Kelly Noftz, student services coordinator for Project Cornerstone, which works with students at 140 schools in Santa Clara County on issues such as bullying. Kids think they’re being private and anonymous when they harass online – and in reality, they’re neither, she said.

When filmmaker Debbie Heimowitz set out to create an educational film about cyberbullying at schools, she convened focus groups at Menlo Park and Redwood City schools. “Every single kid had some experience either knowing somebody who had been bullied, or reading an IM conversation someone had printed out to embarrass one of the parties,” she said. “Every kid said this is very common.” Her film, “Adina’s Deck,” has made her a popular speaker to educators and youth workers.

Others, however, are uncertain whether the Internet actually leads to more cruelty, or simply helps to etch a potential trail of evidence. Unlike in an offline spat, when a 12-year-old types sexual insults on MySpace, posts on YouTube a cell-phone video taken in a locker room or distributes malicious instant messages, each can find their way to adults in charge.

“If two kids are having an argument on the street, we don’t do anything about it,” said Don McCloskey, director of student services for San Jose Unified School District. “If two kids get in an argument on MySpace, we have more and more parents bringing it to our attention.

“I’m not convinced that there are more incidents of kids treating each other more unfairly now. It’s just that we have documents.”

Some educators have seized upon that electronic trail as a tool for prevention.

At Lawson Middle School in Cupertino, students learn there is zero tolerance for online harassment, Assistant Principal Mike Cellini said. And, Cellini added, he reminds students that when they send something into cyberspace, “Oh, by the way, the world can see it.”

That was a shock to some students at one San Jose middle school who created a MySpace “slut list” of 23 girls and asked viewers to submit comments. Within 36 hours the site was shut down, and the culprits discovered.

When to intervene

Whether and how schools insert themselves into online disputes that fall short of criminal behavior is a matter of judgment about how disruptive the conflict becomes.

“No student should show up on campus and be worried about what people have said at night,” San Jose Unified’s McCloskey said. “They are there to get an education and not play out the drama.”

Contact Sharon Noguchi at or (408) 271-3775.

A Letter from a Teacher in Tennessee

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Kim Moon, St. Mary’s Middle School Technology coordinator send this feedback to Adina’s Deck:“The students still ask about Adina’s Deck and want to watch a sequel of it. A 7th grader told me at the latest savvy surfing meeting that they wanted to form their own “deck” after watching it.  There’s not a lot of material on Cyberbullying, and if there is, you have to censor a lot of it for younger girls. Adina’s Deck was age-appropriate for Middle School and they absolutely adored it! We can’t wait for the sequel!”

Thank you so much to Kim Moon, Penny Bower (the Librarian who passed this information along to us) and the students at St. Mary’s for their enthusiasm. We hope we hear reports on how their “Deck” club goes in combatting cyber bullying!

Adina's Deck won Best Educational Student Film!

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Adina’s Deck won the award for Best Educational Film in the student category of the 2008 International Family Film Festival!
We are so happy that IFFF recognized the importance of Cyber Bullying education. The Film Festival was fantastic. All four lead actresses and directors Debbie and Jason traveled down to the event, which was held at the Raleigh Studios on Melrose in Hollywood.
img_3825.JPGFrom left to right, Stephanie Cameron “Melody,” Amelia Varni “Adina”, Ciera Trussell, “Clara,” Kelcie Stranahan, “Skye,” Jason Azicri (writer, director) and Debbie Heimowitz (director, producer)
Kelcie Stranahan, aka “Skye” outside of the IFFF tent, looking much happier than when she was portraying a cyber bullying victim in Adina’s Deck!

Debbie and Carl Borack, the producer of films such as Alice and Saving Shiloh. Debbie worked with Carl on Saving Shiloh, one hot month in Missouri! Sandy Tung, the director of Alice was also there. Debbie didn’t get a chance to take a picture, but was very happy to be reunited with them!!
Amelia, Stephanie and Ciera under the publicity tent at IFFF

The Varni Family at Raleigh Studios

Kelcie and her mom Gail outside of the screening room

Mike Heimowitz (Debbie’s brother), with Debbie and Jason outside of the screening room.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to those of you who came out and supported Adina’s Deck at the IFFF! The amazing turn out from cast, crew and family members who drove hundreds of miles is the very reason this project is where it is today. Your endless support means everything!

A Letter from a Former Cyber Bully

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

We presented and screened the film at the Girl Scouts of the USA’s Relational Aggression Conference and will be posting about that soon. In the meantime, here is a letter we received:

It was 6th grade and I had just gotten my first AIM screen name. I was pretty happy about it, I felt like I had some sort of power. There was this girl that I was really mad at and she started talking to me online. I started cussing and yelling at her but online and then I told someone some rumor about her that spread through AIM. It made her cry and I felt really bad. I think Adina’s Deck is good, because it shows the consequences of what can happen when you bully someone. It not only affects them, but also the people around them and you. I felt really bad after I saw what it did to the other girl, and I would never do it again.

– Anonymous 9th grade student in California

Crocker Middle School

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

This email came to us from Susan Camarillo, School Counselor at Crocker Middle School in Hillsborough, CA. We asked if we could post it online for other schools interested in the program. In addition, they have a blog about the program located here. Thanks Susan!


Dear Debbie and Jason:

I want to thank you again for coming to our Crocker Connections Forum yesterday.  You both did a spectacular job  with our students.  I checked in with several of them this morning, and they were all so enthusiastic about “Adina’s Deck” and the follow-up discussion.  Many of the students went back to their homerooms this morning and shared the highlights of the forum.  One of the teachers told me how interesting and helpful the discussion was in her homeroom.

I even got the opportunity to share some of the pertinent information at a parent group meeting this morning.  It is clear to me that your film and your presentation are already having a positive impact on our school.

I hope to work with you again in the future.  Until then, I wish you all the very best!

Many thanks,


Amelia, Debbie and Jason on CBS Channel 13

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Sacramento’s CBS/CW Channel 13 did a story about Adina’s Deck last Friday, October 26th. We are still waiting to receive a copy of the interview. In the meantime, here are some pictures from that morning.

Amelia Varni, “Adina” with directors Debbie Heimowitz and Jason Azicri


Kelcie Stranahan, “Skye,” Ciera Trussell, “Clara” and Amelia Varni in a scene from Adina’s Deck


Amelia did a terrific job talking about Adina’s Deck at the 5:15am time slot! Debbie was on at 6:45am. We will be posting a link to the interview as soon as it becomes available.

The Cast

Adina - Amelia Varni
Amelia Varni
Clara - Ciera Trussell
Ciera Trussell
Skye - Kelcie Stranahan
Kelcie Stranahan
Melody - Stephanie Cameron
Stephanie Cameron
Michael - Sam Ison
Sam Ison
Winner Seals