Buffalo high school filmmakers premiere documentary on climate change

Aug 21, 2019

Students from the Buffalo Youth Media Institute premiered their documentary "1988" Tuesday night at the Burchfield Penny Art Center. The film examines society’s relationship with climate change.

The title of the film is inspired from a year when climate scientists warned Congress of the impending climate crisis. The film takes place in a dystopian alternative reality of 2019 where people are consumed by a stream of television programming.

Students from several Buffalo youth programs, including the Mayor’s Summer Youth Program and Erie County’s Summer Youth program, worked as part of the Buffalo Youth Media Institute (BYMI).

BYMI was part of the six-week Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT) summer project. BCAT Executive Director Gina Burkhardt said all of the work their students take on involves civic engagement, the environment, or health issues.

“They’re trying to make a point and a good point about where there future is going and how we have to make help it be ok for them,” Burkhardt said.

The project also paid students for their work, which involved writing, directing, acting, sound recording, and editing. Like many of the 13 students involved, Micheal Taylor had never done most those things before.

“It was fun. It was something new,” Taylor said. “I got out of my shell, because I’m usually scared to get out of my shell and talk to people.”

How did these young filmmakers tackle society’s relationship with climate change? Lead teaching artist Jesse Deganis said with different skits to mix in with serious interviews.

“The thing is definitely a satirical take on (climate change), but also serious, done through humor,” Deganis said.

The filmmakers all had plenty to say on the topic. Taylor believes satire can be an effective tool if used properly.

“Some people might not understand what you are talking about. You give it to them in a way they can understand,” Taylor said. “Sometimes it’s not because some people might think we just trying to make a joke out of a thing, but it’s really just to soften the blow.”

(left to right) Lead Teaching Artist Jesse Deganis, Film Crew Members Micheal Taylor and Markeis Payne and Teaching Assistant Raymarri Hugh.
Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO News

Dominique Scruggs has concerns regarding the public’s perception of climate change.

“Just because it’s not affecting you yet, it’s affecting people around you and you can get really hurt from it too,” Scruggs said.

And as far as what they want people to take away from the film, Markeis Payne had this to say.

“To see what climate change is doing to the earth and finding ways that they can fix it,” Payne said.

Taylor worked behind the camera for interviews, made the end credits, and had a chance to act-- the latter he said he had the most fun doing.

“The first skit I did, it was the Ozone. It was like an MTV-type skit and then I’m like the producer. Hugo Strange, I play the same character throughout the movie,” Taylor said. “And then I’m selling water on our shopping network, Obsolete Shopping Network. And then I’m like the selling person that’s all hype.”

The experimental documentary will now being submitted to national and international film festivals.

The experience has been extremely valuable to Scruggs, who has now done multiple projects with BYMI. She said it’s helped her grow as a person.

“I don’t like working with people that much, but I guess these group projects help me a lot (to work) with people,” Scruggs said.

These young filmmakers say they plan on discussing this issue for years to come.

“Today it’s a lot of stuff going on. Like wildfires and floods. This movie is saying this might be how this reality might be if we don’t do something today,” Taylor said. “That’s the message we trying to get out today. By not making it like down your throat. Trying to make it like happy and funny, but at the same time spitting facts at you.”

Taylor said he hopes people in this region start to take climate change more seriously.

“If people was, we wouldn’t be making this movie,” he said.

The film was made with help from a global warming art project grant given by Art Services Initiative.