Bright lights, small city

As a young man in New York City, Sean Cruse did not realize that his journey to become an animator and filmmaker would lead him to the American heartland.

He was originally interested in a college on the southern Atlantic coast with access to beaches and year-round warmth. After further investigation, though, he became dissatisfied with that school's animation program. So, it was off to visit another campus, surprisingly nestled among the cornfields of Indiana. Cruse says the decision to check out Huntington University was a "leap of faith."

"I originally did not want to attend Huntington. My dad and I drove around to scout out the surroundings and ended up in some field somewhere," Cruse recalls. "But once I saw the facilities and talked with the professors, that's when my mind immediately changed."

Cruse is quick to point out that once he chose Huntington, he never doubted the decision. Early in his college career, the university brought to campus a band that supported an organization called Blood: Water Mission. It was his first exposure to the serious issue of humans living without clean water. The experience awakened him to the reality of brothers and sisters in Christ living without basic needs.

"Huntington's message is 'Christ @ Center' but how do you get Christ to the center of someone who doesn't even live past the age of 5 because they died from a water-borne disease?" Cruse asks. "It's such a basic thing. I don't understand. We're in 2011, and there's been a long time to solve this problem, and it's just not happening yet. It can happen, and I want to see it happen."

That concern ignited the idea for Cruse's junior project in the digital media arts program. "Refresh," a stop-motion short film, deals with the disparity between people who are privileged and those who live without. The film portrays a businessman going about his day, buying bottled water from a vending machine, watering his lawn and feeding an aquarium full of fish. These scenes are juxtaposed with images of a mother and daughter in Africa who take a long journey to bring jerry cans of dirty water back to their village.

During the last scenes of the short film, the businessman is shown retrieving his mail while a hose is watering his lawn (and driveway). As he walks inside, he slips on the wet pavement of his driveway, spilling his mail into the puddles and soaking his clothes. The next scene shows the mother and daughter journeying back toward their village with their containers of precious water. The young girl falls, spilling much of the water from her heavy jerry can. The mother helps her up and carries both containers the rest of the way.

The film leaves the audience contemplating how they use limited resources and freshly motivated to help those with less.

"I am blessed to be in this country (but) it's not following out my faith to ignore my brothers and sisters in need around the world," Cruse said. "This is where my passion comes from the teachings of Jesus."

Cruse's commitment was contagious. Two fellow senior animation majors and members of the project team, Benjamin Kroll of Mount Lake Park, Md., and Matthew Weener of Hudsonville, Mich., soon shared the same motivation.
"Seeing Sean's passion for this issue has instilled in me an awareness that has caused me to rethink my priorities," Kroll said. Although Kroll grew up as a missionary kid familiar with poverty struggles around the world, working on "Refresh" gave him a new awareness of the magnitude of the struggle for clean water.

"Refresh" took the 2011 film festival circuit by storm, appearing in five separate festivals in the U.S. and Canada. Most recently, "Refresh" was shown at the Columbus (Ohio) International Film & Video Festival (CIFVF).

Matt Swift, adviser for the Ohio State University Film Studies and division chair for the student division of the CIFVF, was highly impressed with "Refresh."

"I really liked the point behind 'Refresh,'" Swift said. "It has a good message. You really feel for the characters, and it scored very high. Other films got mixed up with their message. 'Refresh' was very clear cut, and this made it a very strong film."

Cruse appreciates the film's acceptance into the festivals but has a bigger goal.

"I'm more excited that the message is being spread," he said. "We want people to not only become educated about the issue but to actually go do something about it."