One Earth Film Festival, which had its humble beginnings in Oak Park in 2012, returns for year six on March 3. It’s now a nine-day festival that includes two weekends. 

This year, the festival will present 30 films in 47 screenings events at 39 locations. And while it continues to expand throughout Chicagoland, it’s still heavily concentrated in the Oak Park area, reaching into Chicago’s Austin and Garfield Park neighborhoods.

Through support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, One Earth offers the chance to experience Conservation International’s virtual reality short films, “Under the Canopy” and “Valen’s Reef,” at select locations, including its signature opening event, the Green Carpet Gala, and closing celebration at the Garfield Park Conservatory on March 12.

A big deal for any festival is to have on hand the filmmakers whose works are being screened. With five years of success under its belt, One Earth has gotten on more filmmakers’ schedules than ever, with 14 confirmed to attend the gala and other screenings throughout the festival’s run. 

One of those filmmakers is Catherine Zimmerman. Her film “Hometown Habitat” will be screened four times throughout the festival. Zimmerman’s appearance is being made possible by a grant from The Walter S. Mander Foundation and West Cook Wild Ones. 

Oak Parkers who want to see and hear Zimmerman will have a chance, 2:30-5 p.m., Sat., March 4 at Triton College, R Building Performing Arts, 2000 Fifth Ave., River Grove. She will participate in a post-film Q&A discussion led by Adrian Fisher, Triton’s sustainability coordinator.

Zimmerman’s documentary weaves together stories that celebrate conservation landscaping. She and her film crew traveled the country to profile individuals and groups making an ecological difference by using native plants, helping heal the Earth one yard at a time. Along the way, she started The Meadow Project to educate and raise awareness about sustainable, native, healthy land-care practices that support wildlife and human life.

One Earth Festival writers Briana Villarrubia and I interviewed Zimmerman recently by phone. Here are excerpts:

What compelled you to make “Hometown Habitat”?

I was teaching an organic land-care class to a group of 15 people [and] wanted to get that message out to a broader audience. So the Meadow Project started with the mission to educate people through film about sustainable, native, healthy, easy and affordable land-care practices that support wildlife and human life. I wanted to talk about why native habitats are important and to look at the ecological connections between native plants and insects. It’s about flipping the landscaping paradigm to make it more about planting native plants that are critical to the survival and vitality of local ecosystem.

Tell us a little about your collaboration with Doug Tallamy.

Doug has a great ability to clue people in and educate them about environmental ideas that they don’t know or haven’t been taught. Doug’s message is that we have to plant native plants to keep our functional ecosystems [because] we’ve torn them down through development, which has resulted in species loss. We need to restore them. Only 5 percent of the country is still natural and pristine and we’re only going to save 5 percent of the species if we only have 5 percent of the habitat. 

In the film he explains the importance of a food web. There is the “aha” moment when you realize 6,000-9,000 caterpillars are needed to bring one clutch of chickadee birds to maturity. And we learn how important native plants are to support these caterpillars that can only eat or “specialize” on a particular native plant. Then we add in what native plants do for us in terms of ecosystem services like oxygen, pollinator services, sequester carbon, build the soil, hold water and help with water run-off and erosion.

The festival offers opportunities for people to take action following a screening. What do you recommend as the first step to creating a home habitat?

On our website, we list groups and native plant nurseries across the country that can help in creating a home habitat using native plants. I advise if using a landscaper, the homeowner really needs to make clear that they are interested in using native plants. The key is diversity. It’s one of the most important concepts ever. It’s a richer system when you have diversity, which is a key for life.

Cassandra West

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