Green films on the big screen

By Kelly Rix

The 44th Annual Chicago International Film Festival blows into the Windy City Oct. 16 to 29, and brings with it a new program with an environmental focus that hopes to stir up winds of change.

The Green Screen program, which makes its debut this year, will showcase six films that address a range of environmental topics from around the world, including urban gardening, deforestation and global warming.

Cinema Chicago, the year-round organization which oversees the coordination of the Chicago International Film Festival, was interested in creating an eco-focused film series for some time, and began brainstorming before coming up with the Green Screen program, said Jesse Berkowitz, documentary and shorts programmer for the festival.

“This year it finally came to fruition, and we picked up enough films relating to environmental issues to put into a program,” Berkowitz said. “We are really excited about it.”

The films for the series were chosen foremost based on their quality, and then by the topics they addressed. Berkowitz said they wanted films that dealt with issues pertinent both to the Chicago region and the world.

“We like to screen films that we feel will further the medium,” Berkowitz said. “But for this specific series, we also wanted to include films that were dealing with relevant environmental issues.”

Charles Annenberg Weingarten directed The Arctic-Change at the Top of the World, a Green Screen film. He said he hopes his film, which deals with global warming and its impact on the Arctic and the people who live there, will allow viewers to see the Arctic’s beautiful culture and the sacredness of the region.

He also helps to raise awareness about global warming and show people ways they can take action and that everyone is in this together, he said.

“I think of us as breadcrumb layers,” Weingarten said. “There are so many people who want to get involved but they don’t know where to go or how to do it. I’m hoping we can pave a path for people.”

Filmmaker Lisa Merton said she hopes her film, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, a documentary she made with her husband, Allen Dater, will not only motivate viewers to think about the environment but also empower the audience to feel like they can make positive change in the world.

“I hope [the audiences] will be inspired to know that each one of them can make a difference in their communities and that their voice in this election is hugely important,” Merton said. “It is a privilege to vote, and it’s nothing to take for granted.”

In their film, Merton and Dater focus on the story of Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman who founded the Green Belt Movement and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. The Green Belt Movement advocates for human rights and democratic change through the protection of the environment, according to its website,

Berkowitz said he hopes the Green Screen program will not only expose audiences to excellent filmmaking, but will also open their eyes to issues they might not be informed about. And for those who are already eco-conscious, the films will reaffirm their beliefs and show them that others are out there fighting against the same issues.

“Mainly, [the Green Screen program] is a wake-up call to our audiences and to our international guests that there are some serious environmental problems right now, as well as some really great things going on,” Berkowitz said.

The films in the series not only focus on ecological problems, but also on solutions and positive things like celebrating nature in general, Berkowitz said.

The turnout for the Green Screen program is expected to be good, and Berkowitz said the Chicago Film Festival hopes to do it again next year. For next year’s festival, they would also like to feature environmentally themed short films for one part of the program, Berkowitz said.

“You can’t ever make any guarantees, but we hope to continue the Green Screen program in years to come,” Berkowitz said. “The environment has become one of the most crucial issues, not only to the film world but for the general public.”

For more information about the Chicago International Film Festival, visit their website,

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