Inside the Film Selection Process

By Julia Evans

Inside the OEFF Film Team Last March, One Earth Film Festival audiences attended 30 films -- in 36 discreet film events and more than two dozen Chicagoland locations. For its fourth annual event this Spring, the festival plans a similar scope of films and programs (but with expanded partnerships, action opportunities, and attendance!). How are the final films selected? Who develops the film programs?

Here, we look inside the One Earth Film Festival film selection and programming process, which typically begins at the end of each Summer with a team of at least a dozen. This year, our film team comprises a terrific group of 20 core members and another 20 “second reviewers” who provided additional feedback on films. Only two of our members have experience in film; most of us volunteer because of our concern for the planet and our desire to do on its behalf.

Diversity Rounds Our Perspective

One of our core members is a restoration ecologist, another a climate activist, another a writer who specializes in writing about nature, and another a chef. One of our members is a dance instructor and co-founder of a social justice organization. We've got a journalist, physician, and organic maple syrup farm owner. One core member and several second reviewers work remotely – from Berkeley and Los Angeles and Cincinnati; all are bound by an interest in environmental sustainability. “I find that my work on the film team has deepened my commitment to the environment,” says Marcia Schattauer, who joined the film team this year.

Having such a diverse group makes the process and outcome that much richer. Fumi Knox, who lives in drought-stricken Berkeley, CA, was sensitive to the themes of water and water conservation, and she explored films with an eye to that issue, which we in the Midwest don't have top of mind.

First Research Phase Yields 200+ Films

One Earth Film Festival does not currently solicit submissions from filmmakers. Thus, we focus our first phase of film selection on film identification. This phase takes many hours of online research, trying to uncover compelling films that tell activating stories in any of 14 sustainability topic areas – from resource conservation (water, energy), to climate change, to food and agriculture, transportation, wildlife, and more. Some team members poll friends, family and co-workers: What recent environmental films have you heard about? Loved? Been changed by?

Team member Elsa Jacobson describes the process as being “all about discovery. Because we are starting with a blank slate and then drilling down to find the best films, it will look different every time. The process embraces the particulars of the people involved. It’s democratic, organic. It’s a collective.” The film discovery phase takes us through an evaluation of hundreds of films. We view trailers, read reviews, and learn in what other festivals each film has appeared. Eventually, those that seem to best fit our criteria are placed on a Watchlist (to be divvied up and watched by our group). This year, our Watchlist included more than 200 feature length and short films.

We Pop A LOT of Popcorn

In the next phase of film team work, film selection,all Watchlist films were watched two or three times, initially by a first reviewer from the core team. Two types of films got a second review: If a film passed muster, or if the first reviewer was unsure about the merits of a film. In these cases,,one or two second reviewers screened these as well.

Every viewing of every film on the Watchlist yields a Report Card rating. The Report Card is one of several digital tools that are housed in an online “film team hub." Members use the Report Card to uniformly rate and review films. It asks team members to rate films by their level of solution-orientation, or their ability to inspire post-film dialogue, for example. In all, about 20 questions prompt the reviewer to rate desired One Earth Film Festival final film attributes: informative, solution-oriented, and capable of inspiring action and effecting change. Veteran film team member Natalie Laczek likes “the ease of having uniform tools” to work with when identifying, reviewing and selecting films for the festival. She also says she loves “the potlucks! Most of our meetings involve food or refreshments, and the community aspect is integral.”

The second phase of work -- film selection -- concludes when all Watchlist films have been screened and rated through Report Cards, and the top performers have been moved to a Final Films List. Having arrived at this Final List, the team begins divvying up films once again, with each member committing to leading program development for 1-2 films on the final list. This year’s Final Films List includes about 30 feature length films, and several shorter films.

Programming: the Heart of our Mission

A central objective in the final phase – film program development -- is to create rich, activating programs around inspiring, solution-oriented films. “In some ways, a film doesn’t serve our mission unless festival viewers see a path to plug into,” says film team member Lisa Kozinski. “We want the films to have an empowering, motivational purpose.” And by motivational, Lisa means hopefully inspiring viewers to take concrete actions now, or at some point soon.

An example of a past program that provided these sorts of pathways to action was a screening of “More Than Honey” (about the plight of the bees and the issue of colony collapse) at Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory. There, a post-film facilitated discussion was led by Naaman Gambil, Head of Programs and Beekeeping, which helped the audience process the film together. Afterwards, attendees participated in a Q & A with John Hansen, Vice President of the Cook County/DuPage Beekeeper’s Association, enjoyed honey tastings and explored a resource fair, staffed by relevant and dynamic local organizations such as West Cook Wild Ones, a native plant advocacy and education group.

At the end, reflects Marcia Schattauer, “I don’t believe we’re preaching to the choir. We’re making the choir bigger. These films, and the medium of film, is helping us draw more people in.” About the facilitated discussions, Natalie Laczek adds, “And sometimes, it’s letting the choir and others discuss among themselves.”

It’s clear that the film team feels a big part of the work they conduct together has something to do with community. Of working in their own team community in a structured but democratic process, in order to eventually spark dialogue with the broader community, with an eye toward generating awareness as well as perspective and behavior change.

Four-time film team volunteer Gloria Araya sums it up well. “This process has deepened my sense of self. It’s very personal in some ways, but also very much about community. I love the One Earth Film Festival as an idea to create community, raise awareness, and encourage collaboration.”

The One Earth Film Festival 2015 list of final films and programs, as well as the schedule of film events, will be announced in January. Don’t miss it!