A photo of Darwin Melchiorre with her award.Darwin Melchiorre is drawn to animation, and at just 16, her talents are already being recognized. 
Melchiorre, a high school junior simultaneously enrolled in classes at San Bernardino Valley College, entered her animated movie Dreaming of the Deep into the Aquarium of the Pacific's inaugural High Tide Student Film Festival, and in June, she won first place in the Thriving in a Changing Climate category. When Melchiorre heard her name called as the winner, "I felt very proud and excited," she said. 
It took Melchiorre 100 hours to draw Dreaming of the Deep's 85 individual frames, plus several hours to edit and write and record the poem that is the film's soundtrack. Dreaming of the Deep is about climate change and how it is affecting the ocean, a topic Melchiorre is passionate about.  
"I sometimes feel betrayed by past generations for their neglect of these world-ruining problems that they now seem to think is my responsibility to clean up," she said. Making films gives her "a creative outlet as a way to express myself and as a way to get across messages that are important to me and use it as a way to feel my voice can be heard." 
Melchiorre lives in rural Riverside County, and has been homeschooled her entire life. She learned about the High Tide Student Film Festival through her charter school, Sage Oak in Redlands, after making a different animated film for an art contest.  
"I had enjoyed making the first animation so much that I wanted to do it again," Melchiorre said. "I also think that it is very important for more young people to get their voices and opinions out there regarding the huge problems that we face on a global scale, such as over consumption, pollution, and climate change." 
To hone her skills, Melchiorre has attended a film-making summer camp at the Idyllwild Arts Academy — in addition to animation, she makes live-action movies as well — and at Valley College, she has taken acting, directing, and media writing courses. This fall, she will study lighting and cinematography at Valley, while also pursuing other artistic endeavors — she enjoys drawing realism, focusing on figures and faces, and knits and crochets, using sheep's wool from animals raised on her family's small farm. 
Melchiorre is thankful for all of the "amazing" art teachers she has had, crediting them for "inspiring me and helping me build the skills" necessary to make Dreaming of the Deep. They taught her more than just how to draw, she added. "It's also the time management, dedication, and confidence required to complete and submit this project," Melchiorre said.