The facilitator and the audience: when the magic happens following the film

 Workshop participant Ellen Wiggins.

Workshop participant Ellen Wiggins.

If you’ve ever attended a One Earth Film Festival program, you know that a facilitated discussion follows most screenings. These discussions are indispensable to the festival programs, which are always thoughtfully curated and planned. The audience experience at screenings often flows like this: watch the film, absorb and digest, discuss, identify an environmental action you can take.

We spend a lot of time and reflection on film selection because we believe audiences should leave with meaningful information, an on-the-ground perspective and a clear path forward. Our screenings are invitations to do better by the planet.

We want you to leave with something you didn’t have when you came. That could be fresh information, a deeper understanding, a new connection, a promise or pledge that will set you on a course for action.

None of this happens in a vacuum. Our facilitators play a big role in the success of every program. We expect them to be not only familiar with film topics but versatile and effective discussion leaders. Many are already seasoned facilitators who have volunteered at multiple One Earth screenings. Others have volunteered in various capacities before deciding to step into the facilitator role for the first time.

 Dick Alton leading a workshop exercise.

Dick Alton leading a workshop exercise.

Because facilitators are such an important part of our festival team, One Earth in 2017 began offering training workshops for anyone taking on the role. This year’s workshop took place Jan. 11 at the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA) in the Uptown neighborhood.

Samantha Sainsbury, a program coordinator at the Institute, co-led the training along with Dick Alton, South Side coordinator, and Ana Garcia Doyle, festival director.

Samantha brings an expertise in the Technology of Participation, or ToP, a facilitation method pioneered by ICA. “This is the second year we’ve done focused conversation training with facilitators to get them into their role of what it means to be a facilitator in general, what is their job, how is it supporting OEFF’s mission and how can they use focused conversations to guide group wisdom and apply it to the film,” Samantha said.

workshop - 1 (1).jpg

The six-hour workshop included interactive exercises, role playing and lots of lively and thoughtful back and forth among participants. An after-lunch session gave participants a chance to talk about their fears and make a “what could go wrong” list because events outside of the facilitator’s control do sometimes occur.

Dick recounted an incident from last year, when a series of unfortunate events delayed a film’s start by several long, uncomfortable minutes. So it was up to the facilitator to keep the audience engaged until the situation got resolved. After the delay, the screening got rolling and a robust discussion followed. When you’re running a live event, facilitators have to be prepared for anything.

 Doug Dixon responds to a question from one of the workshop leaders.

Doug Dixon responds to a question from one of the workshop leaders.

Doug Dixon, who has volunteered at many screenings over the years, decided this was the year to become a facilitator.  Asked by Dick to share what was a workshop takeaway, Doug replied, “It would be the importance of preparation and being able to stand in the space confident and in control.”

Above all, facilitators must keep the audience top of mind, Jen Nelson said. She wants to avoid getting “distracted by all of the logistical details” that go along with being a facilitator. “The audience is the most important part of One Earth Film Festival, and if we can end up with a powerful discussion, then we’ve really accomplished something.”

  The One Earth Film Festival's 2018 Class of Facilitators and their trainers.    

The One Earth Film Festival's 2018 Class of Facilitators and their trainers.