High school student’s short films spread awareness of Earth’s bleak future
Millburn High School junior Jacob Updyke is trying to help spread awareness about the state of the planet’s environment and climate, one film at a time.
“Since I was 10, I’ve had a love for animation and in middle school,” Updyke said. “I began looking for different ways to animate and create stories.” By age 14, Updyke knew what he wanted to do, walking into his parents bedroom and declaring that he wanted to go to art school.
His mother, Caroline, was shocked, but excited. “You don’t expect a 14-year-old to know what they want to do with their lives,” she said. “You think you know your kid, and then they surprise you.”
Updyke explained, “Freshman year, I got a tablet and followed through making detailed animations and started to tell the story of You Reap What You Sow.”
He taught himself how to use a program called Krita. “I didn’t know what to do, so I was changing everything as I went along,” Updyke said. After seven months and over 200 hundred hours of trial and error, Updyke made his first 3-minute animation.
You Reap What You Sow recently won the top prize for animation, sharing with one other winner, in the One Earth Young Filmmakers Contest and Festival. Updyke was one of 196 submissions from students ages 8 to 25. He earned a prize of $500 with a matching gift that he will donate to the World Wildlife Fund. It was set to premiere at the festival on March 7 in Chicago.
It’s a somber, black and white story about a young boy and his mother evacuating a city, leading the boy to ask why. It then follows a man and his eradication of what was once pure. Unapologetically, the film gives an impression of a grim future if we ignore climate change and how it impacts the environment.
Near the end, a blue face mask covering the mother’s mouth is the only glimpse of color. “The face mask is just a reminder that we are losing our ability to breathe,” explained Updyke. “I wanted to set the mood of hopelessness and I wanted the audience to feel that way.
“I decided to incorporate my desire to make impactful, hard-hitting films with my passion for the environment and ecosystem.”
Updyke wanted to make a realistic film about the seriousness of the state of the environment. “I’ve noticed other environmental and climate films were unrealistic,” Updyke said. “They are portrayed as a feel-good movie … coming together to save our planet.
“I am trying to get people to become more aware of the impending state of our climate. I feel that not many people understand how troubling a situation it is.”
This film has gone on to win 11 awards and has been selected to be screened at over 21 film festivals around the globe. “I did not expect this at all. I had no idea it would take off the way it did,” said Updyke.
He won awards in Poland and Lebanon. “I’ve never been to those countries and it’s crazy to have my film place there … it’s insane.”
Since then, Updyke has made two more films. One Man’s Trash, which has already been selected over seven times for exhibition at festivals. AYE0, his most recent film, has not been released yet for festivals. His films can be seen on his website.
One Man’s Trash was made in collaboration with the Millburn Environmental Committee for Earth Day. It is a short film about a plastic bottle and its journey from being discarded to ending up on a beach. “One man’s trash becomes somebody else’s problem.” Updyke said. “It is a very brief film and I am very proud of it.”
AYE0 was finalized on vacation as Updyke was pressed for time. It is a film about a young farm boy in a “desolate wasteland” who hopes that one day he will see a real bird. “AYE0 or ‘all in one,’ represents the future of humanity if change is not addressed,” said Updyke. “This film is my favorite since it shows my growth and progression as an artist.”
Updyke is taking a break to apply to art colleges in Los Angeles and New York City. He is looking to major in film, animation and show-running. He said both his mother and father have been supportive of him.
“I would like to continue to make more impactful films using animation and try human rights related topics such as queer content and human trafficking,” Updyke stated. “I’d like to thank my mom who has helped me enter some contests and kept me company while I edited late at night … I have so much affection for her.
“Everyone has been so kind and supportive of everything. It makes me so appreciative and happy to see what has happened of the small little film I made.”
Article by Krista Vaeth