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'Our Planet in Focus' is theme of Green Lens Film Festival

Published: Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 10:34 a.m. CDT
(Curtis Clegg - Shaw Media)
Melissa Burlingame is one of the co-directors of Northern Illinois University's Green Lens Environmental Film Festival, which runs Feb. 24 through 27.

DeKALB - Short films will be a prominent part of the fourth annual Green Lens Environmental Film Festival, which is themed "Our Planet in Focus."

"This year we are focusing on shorts, so anything under 30 minutes, which has allowed us to see and show more variety of films," said Melissa C, festival director. "We also have a category for feature films and we received over 20 feature films."

There will be three categories of short films, shown over a four-day period from Feb. 24 through Feb. 27 at locations both on and off the Northern Illinois University campus. The festival is hosted by NIU's Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability, and Energy (ESE Institute) and the Division of Outreach, Engagement, and Information Technologies.

All of the festival's film screenings and associated activities are free and open to the public.

Burlingame sat down with Shaw Media to discuss the goals and the films of this year's festival.

Shaw Media: What is your role with the Green Lens Film Festival?

Burlingame: I am one of the co-directors. I make sure everything goes according to plan, and I manage who is doing what, and when. 

How did you get involved?

I am the outreach and communications coordinator for the Institute for the Study of the the Environment, Sustainability, and Energy. It's home of the environmental studies program.

How long have you been involved with the film festival?

Since this beginning. This is the fourth year of the film festival, and the second year of the festival in its current format. The first two years we purchased films and showed them, and last year (festival registrar) Gillian King-Cargile approached me about turning it into a competition festival, and that involves a lot more work.

Did you grow up with an interest in the environment?

Without knowing so, yes. I didn't realize how early I was interested in the environment until just a couple years ago. It always seemed natural to me. I have always been interested in recycling and not wasting and sustainable urban planning. When I was in sixth grade I designed a sustainable city. They asked us to design a city, and mine was a sustainable city. It had dirt roads and the golf course served as recreation and flood management and habitat. Life takes you on different paths and I didn't realize until my mid-twenties that it (her career path) didn't click and I should be working on the environment.

How did the festival get started?

My boss, Melissa Lenczewski, approached me when I was the grad assistant and said, "We should do a film festival," and I said "OK." 

What is the theme this year?

We have the "Planet in Focus" theme because it's the Green Lens festival.

What is the goal of the festival?

MB: Getting people interested in making a difference, no matter how small. When we are choosing films to show, we're not only looking at the scores the judges gave them but considering if they have a positive message. They're not all "gloom and doom" because that doesn't motivate people to make a change. We're looking for something with the message, "We can do something, no matter how small."

Do gloom and doom films have any place in the festival?

I have a sociology background, so knowing what I know of human behavior I can say that it's OK to give people the gloom and doom so that they know what's going on but if they're not presented with a way that they can make an impact, they're just going to file it away and not do anything. It needs to have a message of, "This is what's wrong, and this is how you can fix it."

Where and when can people see the films?

It's Feb. 24 through the 27th. On that Tuesday we're showing some films in Cole Hall and I'm waiting for confirmation from O'Leary's that we'll be showing films there. They will be in the evenings and they'll be totally free. It will be two days on campus and two days off campus so the students are getting the benefit of it and the community is getting the benefit of it. We're doing it on-campus after 7:00 so the community can park for free.

What are the categories of films in this year's festival?

The features is anything over 30 minutes, and there are three shorts categories: narrative, documentary, and student. The category that got the most entries there was documentary.

Were there submissions from local filmmakers?

They are from all over the country – all over the world, actually. The student winner is from Chicago.

How many films will be screened?

Probably 16, maybe 17. Altogether that is about five hours of films. One of the films we're showing is one minute.

What are some of the topics that filmmakers are exploring this year?

The things that are coming to mind is deforestation in South America, and water was a big theme. Water rights, water availability, and water contamination. Also, community farming and sustainable farming was huge. We had a couple on the effects of war on the environment, which was really interesting. We had one that we're doing as a screener's choice, meaning that it didn't make it into the top three but we all loved it so much that we want to share it with the community. The quality of the filming isn't the greatest and there are some parts that are shaky, but the content was amazing. It's called "A Will for the Woods." ... All the films were good, but this one's the one that we couldn't stop thinking about.

What events do your partners have planned?

We're working with the DeKalb Public Library on that Tuesday, the 25th, to work on their Tales for Twos and their teen program and we're going to do some environmental projects with them and we also have books to give away. 

Will you have Q&A sessions with the filmmakers?

We'd like to, but just with the winners. Since most of the winners live out of state we'll probably see if we can Skype with them, and hopefully the student winner from Chicago will drive out.

Where can people go to get more information and schedules?

They can visit www.niu.edu/greenlens.

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