Behind the Scenes: Learn How We Select Films for the Festival

Group meeting.

By Tracie Bedell

As you watch the films we’ve selected, you may feel inspired. Motivated to act. Deeply concerned. In awe. Learning how regular people are dealing with both the challenges and opportunities presented by our environmental crisis is eye-opening, informative, and inspiring. That’s no accident. We’ve chosen the best of the best environmental films. So how did we settle on these particular films for the Festival’s lineup?

A Months-Long Process

This year, more than 90 volunteers were involved in the evaluation process. They hail from the Chicago region, other parts of the United States, and even overseas. The evaluation process kicks off in July, when Summer Movie Club members find, view, and evaluate movies for inclusion in the Festival. Members begin scouring film websites, other film festival sites, and documentary award sites. Additionally, filmmakers submit their films to us for evaluation. This year, we evaluated more than 300 films to pare them down to the engaging mix you see on this page.

Summer Movie Club members enjoy the opportunity to watch powerful, beautifully produced films that share the many stories and perspectives of the ways climate change is already affecting our world, and the lives of communities and individual people around the globe.

Each evaluator fills out an extensive “report card” that helps the entire team understand each film’s strengths and how a film might fit into the festival overall. We intentionally look for films that cover sustainability-related topics, would appeal to a wide ranging audience (both in terms of ages and familiarity with the green movement), lead to engaging conversation, and are solution-oriented, showing innovations and possibilities for the future. Ultimately, we look for high-quality films with the potential to transform an audience and spur them to act.

Creating the Shortlist

Once the report cards are in, the team then begins to work on a shortlist of films, negotiating with other members, presenting their reasons for why a film should (or shouldn’t) be considered for inclusion. These discussions are lively and fun, and are usually hashed out over a potluck meal. Ultimately, we want to settle on a balanced slate of films that appeals to a wide-ranging audience and covers 14 topic areas.

Matchmaking With Venues

Once we have our shortlist, it’s time for team leads to pitch the films to our participating communities and venues. Not all venues are movie theaters. They include forest preserves, brew pubs, churches, museums, schools and more. They range as far north as Gurnee, as far west as Aurora, and as far south as Whiting, Ind. One Earth Film Festival works closely with community partners to ensure that film options we’re offering them are a strong fit for their specific environmental interests, existing projects, or new initiatives they’re hoping to launch. For example, Windsor Park Lutheran Church in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood is using the sustainable food/agriculture film, “Dirt Rich,” to support the construction of a network of urban block gardens on the city’s South Side. In 2018, the Festival collaborated with the Shedd Aquarium and the Chicago Cultural Center to promote and support the Shedd’s launch of its plastics-reduction campaign, “Shedd the Straw” with a screening of “A Plastic Ocean.”

Go All In With Us

Would you like to go All In and shape next year’s Festival? Look for an invitation to the Summer Movie Club in our festival wrap-up email the week of March 14, or visit