One Earth Film Festival is celebrating 10 years of bringing movies related to sustainability and the environment to viewers. While some things are the same as that first year, much is different a decade later. 

The film fest kicks off on Friday, March 5, with a theme of 10 Years of Inspiring Change. All films are being shown virtually and include discussions with filmmakers, subjects in films and experts on film topics. Back and forth with the audience will occur through online chat. 

This general format has been in place since 2012, when One Earth Film Festival first took place with 20 films shown around Oak Park and River Forest. That grew to 35 films scheduled to be shown at 50 screenings at locations across Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana in 2020. But, partway through, COVID-19 entered the scene and crowds could not gather. The festival organizers quickly shifted to show a few remaining films virtually to close out the event. The scheduled speakers and a virtual chat were provided, a preview for what was to come. 

When One Earth Film Festival was first conceived, it was an effort backed by a new group at the time, Green Community Connections (GCC), which had been created two years prior, in 2010. GCC, along with One Earth Film Festival is now under an umbrella organization, One Earth Collective.

According to Jim Babcock, One Earth Collective board member and a founding member of GCC, community discussions were taking place regarding a sustainability plan for the area, which resulted in Plan It Green, approved by in 2011. 

“A group from the meetings congregated and talked about having an organization that would be an educational organization around sustainability issues to help bring people toward situations where they could become active and constructive in the community,” Babcock said. That became GCC, which focused on forums and workshops.      

Another project was the film fest. Ana Garcia-Doyle took the lead for One Earth Film Festival and still runs it today as festival director. She is also on the One Earth Collective board. In that first year, each viewing was set up to include panelists who were experts in the field related to each film, discussion time, and tables to get more information to learn how to take action, as well as a way to stay in touch with GCC. The films covered different issues in the sustainability realm, and organizers learned how to get licenses to show them, Babcock said. He remembers going to local businesses and getting flyers put into windows to get word out. 

Once the films started rolling, the community showed up – approximately 500 people — and the festival’s model for engagement was set in place with one evolution — filmmakers are included in the panels of some showings.

The original idea for using films to create change related to sustainability came from wanting to appeal to people’s emotions.

“The question was, ‘How can we motivate more people in the community to become more active in sustainability issues and climate change?” Babcock said. “What was brainstormed was to show films, thinking that films would have an emotional impact on people if they’re good films with good subjects, and that films would motivate people to take action. The educational forums we had helped people understand things more, but an emotional connection, getting to your heart, is more powerful.”    

Films are chosen by volunteers ranging from those interested in the environment to filmmakers and now include 100 screeners across the U.S. Score sheets are used to rank each film and standardize the process. Some 100-150 films are screened for each film festival. Those that rank the highest are further whittled down by a small team. This year, 20 films made the cut. They cover a variety of sustainability subject matter, such as global warming in the films The Great Green Wall and Kiss the Ground. The topics have evolved over the years including more focus on environmental and social justice. 

One Earth Film Festival screening at St. Giles Church. This year, all screenings take place virtually (photo provided by One Earth Film Festival).

“The amount of content that has to do with environmental justice and racial and economic justice has increased year by year, and this year there are quite a few films that have those subjects as part of their themes,” Babcock said. Gather shows Native Americans reclaiming “their spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty.” District 15 shows the fight to stop Los Angeles industrial oil drilling activity occurring in communities of color and low-income communities.

The umbrella organization, One Earth Collective, now contains the film fest, GCC and youth programs – called Youth Voices. Youth Voices includes the One Earth Young Filmmakers Contest and programs in the Austin and Pilsen neighborhoods of Chicago focused on sustainability around healthy food and gardening. Green Community Connections focuses “on local sustainability programs in Oak Park and River Forest,” according to its website. In the rebranding, Babcock said, “We’re hoping it shows our wider scope of activity.” 

The collective has a website (oneearthcollective.org) and a new logo to symbolize all it does. This group also has grown its board of directors from 4 members to 7 to allow each to focus more on long-term strategic matters versus day-to-day operations. It also increases the board’s geographic and racial diversity. 

The film fest remains One Earth’s Collective’s biggest and most ambitious project and this year it has global reach. While there are 18 events (some include a feature and a short) over 10 days, up to 500 people can join each viewing, unless there is a limit imposed by film licensing. In-person screenings would draw upward of 100-200 per event, according to Babcock. 

One Earth Film Festival kicks off with a launch party on March 5 with proceeds going toward supporting this year’s festival. As part of this event, directors of three films at the festival will speak with Jenn White, a former Oak Parker and host of NPR’s nationally syndicated show, 1A. 

Films begin showing on Saturday, March 6. Tickets are free with a suggested $8 donation. This is to make sure no one is kept from watching the films due to their financial situation, Babcock said. For the schedule and to register, go to oneearthfilmfest.org/films-by-date

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