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On the record ... with Melissa Burlingame

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
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(Curtis Clegg – cclegg@shawmedia.com)
Melissa Burlingame

DeKALB – This year’s Green Lens Environmental Film Festival, themed “Our Planet in Focus,” is focused itself on short films, those under 30 minutes.

“(That) has allowed us to see and show more variety of films,” festival director Melissa Burlingame said. “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. 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.

Burlingame sat down with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg to discuss the goals and the films of this year’s festival.

MidWeek: How long have you been involved with the film festival?

Melissa Burlingame: Since the 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.

MW: 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.”

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

MB:  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.”

MW: How many films will be screened?

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

MW: What are the categories of films?

MB: Features are anything over 30 minutes, and there are three shorts categories: narrative, documentary, and student.

The category that got the most entries there was documentary.

MW: Were there submissions from local filmmakers?

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

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

MB: 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.

MW: What events do your partners have planned?

MB: 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. 

MW: Will you have Q&A sessions with the filmmakers?

MB: 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.

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