Students from Chicago’s near west suburbs swept most of the elementary and all middle school prizes in the 2017 One Earth Young Filmmakers Contest.
Jaxon and Miles Toppen, two brothers from Roosevelt Middle School in River Forest, are winners of the top elementary/middle school prize. Their 8-minute video, “Shells in Need of Saving”, follows the rehabilitation of two sea turtles who were rescued from polluted waters near the Florida Keys. Thurston develops a disease that causes tumors, while Agape ingests plastic which causes him to float to the surface and leaves him unable to dive for food. The Turtle Hospital rescues, treats and releases them. Miles and Jaxon suggest that viewers help reduce water pollution by purchasing products with less packaging and disposing of garbage appropriately, among other tips.
In explaining their motivation for entering the contest, the boys wrote: “Turtles did not struggle until humans started creating many threats. If we continue our ways, not only will we lose turtles, we may lose all life on earth as we know it. We hope our film will make people change the types of behavior that cause pollution, not just of the ocean, but of the entire planet.”
Frederic and Boomer Small, two brothers from Suder Montessori Magnet School and Beaubien Elementary School in Chicago, will receive an honorable mention award at the elementary school level. Their 1-minute animation, “All About Sharks,” dispels our fears about sharks, assuring viewers that we are more likely to be killed by a vending machine than eaten by a shark. A sinister red vending machine waves its arms and falls over to demonstrate their point. Through stop motion drawings by Frederic and narration by Boomer, we are shown that sharks actually help clean the ocean’s waters by eating sick and injured animals.
Ruhi Shastri Saldanha from Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park is winner of the top middle school prize. Her 6-minute video, “Deforestation,” shows how deforestation causes loss of habitat for wildlife. She intersperses stop-motion animation with photos, video, and an interview with Douglas Chien of Friends of the Forest Preserves. In her lively narration, Ruhi presents possible solutions, including eating less or no meat; buying eco-friendly wood and recycled paper products; volunteering at parks and conservatories; and planting and hugging trees.
“Deforestation is happening because we need more land for housing and urbanization. Agriculture and cattle ranching are also causing deforestation. . . . Wild animals are losing their homes,” she wrote to explain why she entered the One Earth Young Filmmakers Contest.
Fourteen Eco Eagles from Brooks Middle School in Oak Park will receive an honorable mention award at the middle school level. Their 6-minute video, “Yard Hunters,” is a humorous spoof of the HGTV show “House Hunters.” In their film, a family of pollinators looks for the best yard to call home, namely one with native plants and milkweed for their caterpillar children. First, the realtor squirrel shows them a lawn treated with pesticides, then a yard with beautiful non-native flowers, and finally the perfect yard with native plants.
Winning students are: Amparo Acevedo, Josh Dingman, Sam Dingman Laurel Ditzel, Danielle Guralnick, Cerys Hattersley, Amanda Janusz, Zoe Klein, Sophie Larratt, Julian Palko-Flores, Julia Patson, Daliah Ramos, Mateo Reyes, and Sarah Ungaretti.
The group described their motivation for entering the contest thus: “Our film was inspired by our new school garden. We planted native plants in the fall to attract bees and butterflies. But we saw that most people had just grass in their yards which does not provide food or homes for bees and butterflies. . . .
“We hope this film inspires people to plant milkweed for monarch butterflies because it’s the only plant the caterpillars can eat. We hope people stop using pesticides because bees are becoming endangered. We also hope that people plant flowers that bees and butterflies can use as habitat.”
Christina Yin and Elizabeth Hou of Monte Vista High School in Danville, Calif., are winners of the top high school prize. Their 3.5-minute video, “Crash ‘n’ Crumble,” shows how deforestation causes soil erosion. They intersperse a stop-motion drawing with images, video, and interviews to present their message that deforestation removes soil’s nutrients and anchor. The film concludes by showing a group of volunteers taking action by planting native trees near a creek through a local organization called Living Arroyos.
Elizabeth explained why they were motivated to create their film: “. . . . We want to encourage grassroots environmental change. But the unfortunate reality is that with soil erosion and degradation as bad as it is, change necessitates major societal overhaul. Soil is often overlooked as an abundant or even infinite resource, yet we are on the verge of exhausting it. . . . We hope this film inspires action in people who care.”
Eight current and recent Columbia College students will receive an honorable mention award at the college level. Their 4-minute video, “A Revolution Dance Against Petcoke,” in black and white, shows dancers accompanied by the song “Revolution” by Raury. “Forsake this burning earth,” is the refrain while the dancers express a sense of longing and decay through their movements.
Filmmaker Bre Kloski captures the dancers from a variety of angles and uses blurring, duplication and slow motion for special effects. Dancers are Jo Anderson, Joshua Day Lewis, Jordan Gillespie, and Tristin Pasano. Choreography is by Abigail Riechman and Karielle Williams, and editing is by Carlee Belt.
The group described their motivation for entering the contest here: “. . . We made this film last year in our Nature & Environment in U.S. Culture class because this is a huge problem facing Chicago, our home. . . . We see families who are impoverished, elderly, or part of the African American and Latino cultures live closer to where the dust of Petroleum Coke is released. . . . Overall, we hope that this film can help show that all beings deserve a chance of environmental and social justice.”
“A Revolution Dance Against Petcoke” will premiere at the Green Carpet Gala, the kickoff event for the One Earth Film Festival, at 6 p.m. Friday, March 3, at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Gratz Center, 115 E. Delaware Place, in Chicago.
The film will screen again at the Young Filmmakers Contest Winner Screenings and Awards along with all other winning films at Columbia College Music Center the following day at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 4, at Columbia College Music Center, 1014 S. Michigan Ave., in Chicago.
After the screenings and awards, the festival invites everyone to experience a short virtual reality film, “Under the Canopy” from Conservation International. The viewing requires virtual reality headsets. Steve & Kate’s Camp will offer an opportunity for kids young and old to experiment with nine iPad stop-motion video work stations.
Annually, the Young Filmmakers Contest awards prizes at the elementary school ($75), middle school ($100), high school ($250), and college ($500) levels. Students are asked to make a 3- to 8- minute film about one of six sustainability topics: energy, food, transportation, waste, water, and open space/ecosystems. Winners are also given a matching gift to donate to the charity of their choice related to the content of their film. Each year two or three significant films also receive an Honorable Mention Award.
Free tickets for the Young Filmmakers Contest Screenings and Awards are available at as part of the One Earth Film Festival. In its 6th year, the festival will present 47 screenings of 30 environmental films in 39 venues across Cook, Dupage, Lake and Kane Counties between March 4 and 12.

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