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Eco Focus

Environment and Ecology in Focus do not miss these great festivals calling with a theme. (Thanks and tribute to Rob Stewart's Sharkwater for his fantastic legacy and this poster)



One Earth young filmmakers 2019 Contest announces Winners

 Collage of Young Filmmakers Contest Winners 2019

By Lisa Biehle Files

This year, the One Earth Young Filmmakers Contest drew a record 157 entries from as close as River Forest, Illinois, to as far away as Hawi, Hawaii, with film topics ranging from plastic pollution to E-waste to fast fashion.

Exactly 100 of those entries competed for the top prize, a $1,000 scholarship at the college level (which includes grade 12 of high school).

Students from age 8 to 25 were asked to create a 3-to 8-minute film (or 45-second animation) about one of 6 sustainability topics: energy, food, transportation, waste, water, or open space/ecosystems. They each presented a problem with their topic as well as a solution.

The top prize for grades 9 to 11 is $350, grades 6 to 8 win $200, and grades 3 to 5 compete for $100.

“Most of our younger entrants are local, from the Chicago area,” says contest Founding Director Sue Crothers. “At the college level, the prize is a little different because it’s a scholarship that’s become popular nationally.”

Each cash prize or scholarship winner also receives a matching gift to donate to the nonprofit of their choice that supports the theme of their film. For example, this year’s middle school winner, Andrew Edwards, will donate his matching $200 gift to The Orangutan Project; his film is about the explosive demand for palm oil and its impact on wildlife.

Winning films will premiere as a part of the One Earth Film Festival at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 2, at the Gene Siskel Center, 164 N. State St. in Chicago. Reserve free tickets here:

Samantha Lane’s “Spell of the West,” a 7-minute animated narrative, took the top $1,000 prize. Her $1,000 matching gift will go to Kiss the Ground, a non profit that promotes healthy soil as a solution to climate change.

Samantha Lane’s “Spell of the West,” a 7-minute animated narrative, took the top $1,000 prize. Her $1,000 matching gift will go to Kiss the Ground, a non profit that promotes healthy soil as a solution to climate change.

“This year there were so many strong films that we felt we had to recognize them in some way,” continues Sue. “We have 5 top prize winners whose films will premiere at the Gene Siskel Center, and 15 honorable mention films which we hope to screen at an Earth Day event in Oak Park. But every winner will receive an award certificate at the Gene Siskel Center on March 2.”

Two college level honorable mention films will screen at the One Earth Film Festival’s Opening Night Launch Party at 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 1, at DIRTT, 325 N. Wells St., in Chicago. One is a 3-minute comedy sketch, “The Green Burger Challenge” by Adam Joel, a 2018 graduate of Northwestern University, and the other is a stylish 1-minute animation, “Waste” by Amanda Conyers Godreau, a freshman at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla.; she is originally from Puerto Rico.

Both Adam and Amanda will attend the Opening Night Launch Party, as will Emily Zhao, winner at the high school level, from Germantown, Md.

Some additional high school and college level honorable mention films will screen in conjunction with feature films at the One Earth Film Festival (see below).

Elementary School

$100 Winner (+ $100 matching gift): “Plastic in the Ocean” by Patricia Lucaszczyk and Adriana Talavera, 4th grade, Luther Burbank Elementary in Burbank, Ill.

Patricia Lucaszczyk and Adriana Talavera

Patricia Lucaszczyk and Adriana Talavera

Patricia and Adriana act out short vignettes in their 4-minute film in order to bring their message to life: too much plastic pollution in the ocean endangers marine life and eventually us. The girls explain how the plastic got there and what we can do about it. Over one billion pounds of garbage is dumped in the ocean every year. For example, 80 percent of plastic water bottles wind up in the ocean, with only nine percent being recycled. Patricia and Adriana demonstrate how easy it is to use reusable water bottles and reusable bags; turn down straws; and participate in beach cleanups.

Why did the girls enter the contest? “So we can show people that they are hurting our world, and there are many simple ways that you can help prevent ocean pollution,” wrote Adriana in their contest submission. “This could harm many animals,” added Patricia.

The girls decided to donate their matching gift to Mission Blue, which inspires action to explore and protect the ocean. Led by oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue advocates for a worldwide network of marine protected areas called Hope Spots.

Honorable Mention:  “What a Waste!” by Lily Kleps, 3rd grade, Lincoln Elementary School, River Forest, Ill.

Lily Kleps

Lily Kleps

With spunky music and personality, Lily narrates her 8-minute film about food waste and what can be done about it. Forty percent of food in America is wasted, about 1,400 calories per person, per day. “That’s 150 trillion calories a year!” she exclaims. Methane gas from food waste in landfills is entering the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Lily follows up with practical solutions to this problem: buy less, use proper storage and smaller plates, compost, and give any extra to your local food banks.

Her motive for entering the contest:  “I like film and entering contests. I want people to know that wasting food is a bad habit. I chose this topic because wasting food is also wasting water, land, and energy.”

Middle School

$200 Winner (+$200 matching gift): “The Turmoil of Palm Oil” by Andrew Edwards, 8th grade, Roosevelt Middle School, River Forest, Ill.

Andrew Edwards

Andrew Edwards

Andrew uses paper cutouts, photos, and live action to educate us about a new topic. Demand for palm oil has increased dramatically and may double within the next 10 years, he explains in his 6-minute film. The palm fruit from African oil palm trees is a high quality, productive crop; rain forests and animal habitats are being cut down to make way for palm plantations. Consequently, the survival of elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, and orangutans is in peril. Andrew points out a solution: purchase sustainably produced palm oil. Look for Rainforest Alliance Certified stamps and similar eco-friendly endorsements.

This topic is close to Andrew’s heart: “I believe that palm oil harvesting will lead to the extinction of the orangutans if it continues. . . . If everyone helps out in situations like these we can together make a big difference.”

Andrew wants his matching $200 gift to go to The Orangutan Project, a nonprofit working to save orangutans in locations where new plantations remove their habitat.

Honorable Mention: “Drowning in Plastic” by Maiana Nelson, 7th grade, L.J. Hauser Junior High School, Riverside, Ill.

Maiana Nelson

Maiana Nelson

Maiana starts her 8-minute film with statistics worth pondering: The average American uses 1.6 straws a day, and every straw ever used still exists on our planet. Her film’s focus is plastic straws but she also talks about plastic in general by interviewing local environmental leaders. Momentum has grown to reduce use of plastic straws, she says, listing organizations and restaurants that have joined the effort, even Starbucks via a new beverage lid. Pledging to “Skip the Straw” is one of her suggested solutions for the plastic crisis, in addition to reusable shopping bags and reusable water bottles.

“We all created this mess, and we need to clean it up,” she wrote in her contest entry. “It’s not hard if we all work together.”

Honorable Mention: “Our Water Crisis” by Tori Robinson-Thomas, 6th grade, Grace Lutheran School, River Forest, Ill.

Tori Robinson-Thomas

Tori Robinson-Thomas

Tori walks next to Lake Michigan, one of the world’s largest sources of fresh water, while revealing some important facts about water in her 3.5-minute film. Seventy percent of the earth is water, but only 3 percent of that is fresh water. By the year 2025, one fourth of the world will experience water shortages. Access to clean and safe water is a basic human need. So how can we help? Tori thinks large companies should not pollute our water, but also each individual can conserve water via shorter showers, using reusable water bottles, and other measures.

“We cannot make new water!” Tori emphasizes in her film. Her motivation to enter the contest was a desire to learn more about environmental issues.

High School

$350 Winner (+$350 matching gift): “Planet or Plastic” by Emily Zhao, 11th grade, Montgomery High School, Rockville, Md.

Emily Zhao

Emily Zhao

Emily starts her 8-minute film by showing the accumulation of plastic waste one person makes in a typical day that starts with a frozen breakfast burrito and ends with bringing home leftovers from dinner out with friends.  Since plastic was mass-produced in the 1950s, only 9.5 percent has been recycled, she says. If we continue using plastic at the current pace, the ocean will have more plastic than fish by 2050. Change is possible on three levels: individual, business, and government. Emily interviews scientists and citizens to get their thoughts and intersperses this with animation and photos to illustrate her message.

She wrote: “There is a lot of hope for curbing plastic waste, like the movement to ban plastic straws and river cleanups. As for me, I stopped using single-use plastic bottles and straws, and I try to buy food without a plastic wrapper.”

Emily will donate her $350 matching gift to go to the Anacostia Watershed Society, which organizes cleanups on the Anacostia River and educates the local community about watershed conservation.

Honorable Mention: “Estelle’s Story” by Kendall Dirks, 10th grade, York High School, Elmhurst, Ill.

Kendall Dirks

Kendall Dirks

In his 7.5-minute film, Kendall interviews Estelle Carol of Deep Roots Project about why she started growing edible gardens. He also interviews Ryan Anderson who talks about how the chemicals we use on our lawns are damaging the environment. Estelle says that Deep Roots Project, wants to change the cultural concept that toxic, green lawns are beautiful and replace that with the idea that edible gardens are beautiful and healthful. The lush images of Estelle’s garden and soft piano music persuasively convey this message.

Kendall started his film as part of a high school level Young Filmmakers’ Workshop. Afterward, he gathered the group’s film footage and then completed editing on his own. He is grateful to the students and teachers for help with filming and initial editing.

“Estelle’s Story” will screen in conjunction with the One Earth Film Fest feature film “Dreaming of a Vetter World” at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at the Good Earth Greenhouse, 7900 Madison St., in River Forest. Free tickets and details are here:

Honorable Mention: “Race to Stop E-Waste” by Nicole Tanaka, 11th grade, Gabrielino High School, San Gabriel, Calif.

Nicole Tanaka

Nicole Tanaka

In her 4.5-minute film, Nicole intersperses live action and stop-motion to let us know about the dangers of electronic waste (E-waste). Fifty million tons of E-waste is generated in a year, and only 40 percent of that is recycled. People scavenge for the copper in E-waste, but other chemicals such as lead, mercury, and chromium can hurt human health and contaminate the soil, air and water. Nicole urges us to dispose of our E-waste properly by giving it to a recycling plant or e-Stewards. She does not endorse the practice of sending our E-waste to foreign countries, thereby exposing others to health risks.

“Making this film was a great opportunity to express the world’s cry for help,” wrote Nicole in her contest submission. “I hope that entering the contest gives a voice to this ongoing environmental issue.”

College (includes grade 12)

$1,000 Winner (+$1,000 matching gift): “Spell of the West” by Samantha Lane, senior at California Institute of the Arts, Santa Clarita, Calif.

Samantha Lane

Samantha Lane

In this 7-minute fictional fantasy, Rose, the cacti farmer, is enlisted by her friends, the birds, to confront an elusive man who chops down trees in the forest. One morning, Rose wakes up to find all her cacti have also been cut down. She feels completely overwhelmed by this problem, but her friend Boots, a blue horse (who also happens to wear boots), knocks on her door to offer a solution. The sumptuous landscapes as well as the narrative reveal that nature is spiritually alive, vulnerable, and needs our protection.

Samantha wrote: “I was interested in re-framing the environmental conversation. . . with a deep respect and poetic appreciation for the natural world. With that goal in mind, I began ‘Spell of the West,’ and ended up adding a bit of humor and weirdness just to spice things up.”

Samantha will donate her matching $1,000 gift to California-based Kiss the Ground, a nonprofit that promotes healthy soil as a solution to climate change.

Honorable Mention: “On the Backs of Salmon” by students Cecilia O'Rollins, Miles Whitworth, Martin Bolivar, Aaron Miller, Freeman Marshall, John Gussman, Kirsten Zeller, Chris Barrett, Jasper Land, Maddie Lausted, Caroline Harader, from Ballard High School in Seattle, Wash.

Ballard High School students interview Russ Hepfer of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe from the Olympic Peninsula. In this 8-minute film, Russ tells the story of how two hydroelectric dams built in the early 1900s flooded their homelands and blocked salmon from traveling upstream to spawn, ultimately destroying their way of life. After 100 years, they succeeded in removing the dams and restoring their resilient ecosystem. This was made possible because national parks across the country pooled their resources to pay the $325 million price tag of dam removal, the largest such project in history.

Ballard High School’s digital filmmaking program has competitive entry for high school juniors and seniors. “On the Backs of Salmon” won a regional Emmy award for short-form non-fiction.

“On the Backs of Salmon” will screen along with the One Earth Film Fest feature film “Holy (un)Holy River” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 5, at Patagonia Chicago, 48 E. Walton St., in Chicago. Tickets and details are here:

Honorable Mention: “Plastics in Ocean” by Anna Daugherty, senior at Wheeler High School, Marietta, Ga.

Anna Daugherty

Anna Daugherty

Via well-chosen illustrations, photographs, and charts, Anna explains that plastics do not biodegrade but photodegrade into smaller pieces that bioaccumulate in sea life and people. Furthermore, they attract toxic pollutants such as BPA, DDT, and dioxins, making them even more dangerous. Scientists are trying to create biodegradable plastics and use fewer harmful substances, but individuals can also help by using reusable bags or containers and participating in cleanups.

Anna became impassioned about plastic pollution after doing research for an AP environmental science class. She wrote: “Filmmaking and video creation are a passion of mine, so this was a wonderful opportunity to apply myself.”

“Plastics in Ocean” will screen along with the One Earth Film Fest feature film “Sea of Hope” at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, at the Chicago Cultural Center, 68 E. Washington St., Chicago. Free tickets and details are here:

Honorable Mention: “Sincerely Corpus” by Cara DeGaish, senior at Gregory Portland High School in Portland, Texas.

Cara DeGaish

Cara DeGaish

The narration for this artful 3-minute film is a heartfelt letter written from the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, to its inhabitants. The beaches and streets of the city are polluted with microplastics and litter; so Corpus tells her people they have a choice. They can take action to change laws and participate in beach cleanups to make an impact, or they can stand by and watch their city deteriorate.

“I wanted my film to feel personal, like a written letter from a loved one; one who truly cares about its future and impact on a city,” Cara wrote. “This film stresses empathy in all its three minutes. I hope you enjoy and feel inspired to make a change in your city!”

“Sincerely Corpus” will screen at the One Earth Film Festival Wrap Party at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 10, at The Hatchery, 135 N. Kedzie, in Chicago. Free tickets and details are here:

Honorable Mention: “The 1.3 Billion Ton Problem” by Gillian Dittmer, freshman at Rider University in Safety Harbor, Fla.

Gillian Dittmer

Gillian Dittmer

Gillian’s whiteboard cartoon illustrations and text emerge from the screen as she narrates her 5-minute film about food waste, the 1.3 billion ton problem. A total of one third of food is wasted, resulting in increased emissions and global warming. Gillian’s impassioned narrative coupled with a crescendo of music give her film a sense of urgency. She offers large-scale and small-scale solutions from shipping unwanted food to under-resourced areas to putting only what you will eat on your plate.

“Food waste is a frustrating issue for me because there is so much that could easily be done to reduce it, yet little effort is made by a majority of Americans. I created this film in hopes of changing that,” she wrote in her contest entry.

Honorable Mention: “Waste” by Amanda Conyers Godreau, freshman at Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Fla.

Amanda Conyers Godreau

Amanda Conyers Godreau

Don’t blink, because Amanda’s stylish 1-minute animation moves quickly to explain that the U.S. produces 30 percent of the planet’s waste while being home to only four percent of the world’s population. Pastel-colored cutouts move across the screen to illustrate the facts: each person produces seven pounds of waste per day, on average. We can make changes by using reusable cups and straws, taking political action, and learning to appreciate our natural surroundings.

A native of Puerto Rico, Amanda experienced the consequences of climate change herself during Hurricane Maria. She lived without power for months but is now on track to complete her college education, despite all obstacles. Her determination to thrive by entering this contest reveals her spirit and resilience.

“Waste” will screen at the One Earth Film Festival Opening Launch Party on Friday, March 1, at DIRTT, 325 N. Wells St., in Chicago. Amanda will be in attendance for the premiere of her film. Tickets and details here:

Amanda Conyers Godreau’s animated film “Waste” earned an honorable mention at the college level.

Amanda Conyers Godreau’s animated film “Waste” earned an honorable mention at the college level.

Honorable Mention: “Crime of Fashion” by Joanne Ha and Sarina Matson, made last year while seniors at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md. They are now freshmen at Boston University and Cornell University, respectively.

Within 7 minutes, Sarina and Joanna critique the fast fashion business model by interviewing a boutique owner, World Resources Institute analyst, tailor, and student who upcycles her own clothes. The cost of fast fashion can be lower wages, unsafe conditions, and polluted rivers in other parts of the world. By recycling, repairing, and upcycling clothing, we can help the environment while adding meaning to what we wear.

“It is my goal to make the fashion industry less self-centered, even if just by making people think twice about throwing an item of clothing away or buying something new,” wrote Sarina in her contest submission.

“Crime of Fashion” will screen in conjunction with the One Earth Film Fest feature film “RiverBlue” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at Loyola University Chicago, Damen Student Center, 6511 N. Sheridan Ave., in Chicago. Free tickets and details here:

Honorable Mention: “Trap, Neuter, and Return” by Hailey McMahon, senior at Citrus High School, in Inverness, Fla.

Hailey McMahon

Hailey McMahon

Who doesn’t like watching cats? In 4.5-minutes, Hailey tackles the problem of community cats that can ravage small wildlife by showing us video of cats about to pounce on their potential prey. Her solution is to reduce the number of community cats via Trap, Neuter, and Return programs. Cats are caught, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and returned. With the average female cat delivering three litters of four kittens per year, this could make an impact.

Hailey plans to be a veterinarian in the future, which is why she selected this topic. “Animals have helped me overcome a lot of things. Whenever I’m stressed, my pets seem to gravitate towards my room.” she wrote.

Honorable Mention: “Insecticides and the Environment” by Jacqueline Sepulveda, senior at Maine West High School, in Des Plaines, Ill.

Jacqueline Sepulveda

Jacqueline Sepulveda

In her 5-minute film, Jacqueline uses charts, photos, and illustrations to show the dangers of pesticide use and why stronger and stronger chemicals are needed in a vicious pesticide resistance cycle. Neonicotinoids and Atrazine, which are banned in other countries, can be carried up the food chain, contaminating our environment. Jacqueline proposes Integrated Pest Management via native plants in order to have an abundant yield. Though this is not a quick fix, long term results are better for overall community health.

“The wellness of the world around me has become important to me,” she wrote. “I love video-making, so this seemed like a great opportunity to use my skills and passions in a positive way.”

College Graduates

Honorable Mention: “The Green Burger Challenge” by Adam Joel, 2018 graduate of Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

Adam Joel

Adam Joel

Adam is the lead character and director in his 3-minute comedy sketch about a meat-loving environmentalist. When he realizes his two friends are vegetarians, he challenges himself to conserve as much water and energy as was used in producing his hamburger. He does so by promising not to take a shower for a month and running 10 miles to that night’s party. By the time he arrives, the party is long over, and it looks as if the only food left might be a vegetarian option.

Adam graduated from Northwestern University in 2018 and has since started his own freelance videography business for nonprofits, Creative Media for Good Causes. He is passionate about comedy and social causes.

“The Green Burger Challenge” will screen at the One Earth Film Festival Opening Launch Party on Friday, March 1, at DIRTT, 325 N. Wells St., in Chicago. Adam will attend this event. Tickets and details here:

Honorable Mention: “Our Horizon” by Jack Szynaka and Nikki Conero, 2018 graduates of School of Visual Arts, New York City, New York.

Nikki Conero and Jack Szynaka

Nikki Conero and Jack Szynaka

Jack and Nikki mix live action with computer animation to create a living, moving tree with skin of bark, arms and legs of a man, and ears and face of an animal. This gentle creature brings dying plants back to life magically within their 6-minute film. However man, the predator, enters the picture and tries to kill the magical tree, first with a defective gun, and then with a knife. During the chase, the man trips and falls onto his own knife. Mercifully, the tree turns back to help the man, but all does not end well.

Jack and Nikki’s film is symbolic, showing man’s quest to subdue and control nature. “We chose to create a story that was both dramatic and emotionally-driven, one that would be entertaining, yet have a pertinent message,” they wrote in their submission.

“Our Horizon” will screen in conjunction with One Earth Film Festival feature film “Call of the Forest” at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, March 10, at Thatcher Woods Pavilion, 8030 Chicago Ave., in River Forest. Free tickets and details are here:

A jury of 22 leaders in film and sustainability reviewed the films to identify winners. They are: Felice Bassuk, Amy Brinkman, Laurie Casey, Lisa Daleiden-Brugman, Kelly Doss, Monica Fox, Bill Gee, Kathryn Hempel, Richard Laurent, Jennifer Maiotti, Jonathan Moeller, Jim Rohn, Risé Sanders Weir, Annie Speicher, Angela Taylor, Lauren Travers Wall, David Arthur Wall, Matt Wechsler, Karen Weigert, Cassandra West, Angelo Williams, and Caroline Ziv. 



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