|Filmmaker John Lyden|
In time for today's International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression and June's Student Safety Month. filmmaker John Lyden (College of St. Rose) explains below the background to Stepping Toward the Lion, his film about a young Muslim American finding his voice via an innovative program for addressing bullying.
Stepping Toward the Lion: Finding My Story showcases the intense struggles of Alaudeen Umar, a young African American Muslim, as he transitions from an all-Muslim school to a nondenominational charter school. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Alaudeen faced prejudice and bullying in this new environment, something that caused him considerable insecurity. As a proactive step to help him to deal with the bullying, Alaudeen’s family searched out and found a local interfaith storytelling group called Children at the Well.
The film depicts his transformation, going from being a bully victim in school, unsure and confused with his religion, to embracing his identity and becoming a versatile and talented storyteller.
I completed this passion project in my spare time outside of school. In high school I was a member of Children at the Well, and through this common bond Alaudeen and I became friends. I started talking to him, and he opened up to me and told me about some of the problems he was experiencing. I started documenting his journey through the group, and the project grew.
The project started as only footage of Alaudeen learning from the group how to tell stories, but as the project grew, I began to conduct in-depth interviews with both Alaudeen and members of his family. That was a process. Some issues that they experienced were so painful for them that they did not wish to comment on them while on camera.
It was a collaboration between me and them. It was their story so I didn’t want to tell it my own way; I wanted to make sure they were comfortable with it at all times.
In this day and age, I think it is imperative that kids see it is possible to find a group where they will be embraced for being different. That’s the purpose served by Stepping Toward the Lion.