What’s a Ch-Eco Fest?

Jennifer Rotnem

Jennifer Rotnem

Photo By Marisol Salgado

Jennifer Rotnem was on her way to becoming a stock broker or investment banker, until she enrolled in a freshman-level environmental-studies course that changed her life.

As the director of environmental programs for the Center for Ecosystem Research, part of Chico State University’s College of Natural Sciences, Rotnem is far from Wall Street. Instead of investments, Rotnem is focusing her efforts on sustainability, particularly in Chico.

Most recently, the 36-year-old has organized the first annual Ch-Eco Film Fest. The five-day festival that begins Wednesday (April 11) is a product of partnerships between the university, the Chico Sustainability Group, Friends of the Arts and the Sierra Club Yahi Group.

The event aims to raise awareness about sustainability efforts taking place both locally and globally and includes film documentaries, guest lectures by Chico State professors and other experts (including Denis Hayes, co-founder of Earth Day), educational films for children and art workshops.

Initially, the idea for the film festival came from Jeff Price, an assistant professor of geological and environmental sciences. Before Price came to Chico, he was an amateur filmmaker working mostly on wildlife documentaries.

“When I interviewed for the job here, I talked to the dean about starting a wildlife film festival,” he said in a phone interview from his office. “The first year I was here nothing really happened, but over time interest grew from a lot of little seeds, but Jennifer has been the driving force in putting this first festival together.”

Rotnem, who has worked at the university for nine years, is a member of the Chico Sustainability Group. The best way to describe the group is a “seat of the pants” organization consisting of 40 to 50 members who meet once a month, said Kim Weir, a writer and Chico state graduate student who is also a member of the festival’s organizing committee.

“This film festival was a perfect opportunity for us because we don’t have an official organizational structure,” Weir said. “So, if we want to promote something or help something happen, we have to work with organizations that already exist.”

“The Sierra Club was an obvious fit because they have a large membership with interests in environmental issues,” Rotnem said. “Friends of the Arts was also chosen to co-host because this is a festival of film and arts.”

Denis Hayes

Courtesy Of

The group is currently focused on the earth flags of Chico. “Andy Keller, of Chico Bags, is working to get The Esplanade lined with earth flags for Earth Day, April 22, in order to raise awareness about Earth Month and the events the community has going on,” Rotnem said.

Hayes will speak in Laxson Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. There is no charge to attend.

Hayes co-founded Earth Day in 1970 and has since worked with numerous institutes, universities and environmental organizations, as well as continuing to be involved with Earth Day. Named one of Time’s “Heroes of the Planet,” Hayes is currently president and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental philanthropy.

In a phone interview from his office in Seattle, Hayes discussed climate change, changing business practices, what Chico can do to maintain momentum toward sustainability efforts, and the evolution of Earth Day.

“America is well positioned to make positive changes if we get off our duffs and start doing it,” Hayes said.

Earth Day has changed over the 37 years since its founding, Hayes noted.

“The first Earth Day, while focusing upon the planet and lots of pictures and visions of earth from space, mostly focused upon things that were relatively close to people’s homes, families, and neighborhoods,” Hayes said.

Global warming had changed all that.

“What we’re aspiring to do now,” Hayes said, “is use the new information and communications technologies to create a greater sense of people around the world working in concert toward the kinds of planetary issues that historically we’ve just talked about but haven’t really addressed on a planetary basis. The ultimate example of this would be climate change.”

His hope is that communities will start building a greater sense of a global community. Events like the Ch-Eco Film Fest are steps in the right direction, Hayes said.

“People will always be concerned with what is happening in their neighborhoods and continue to be hopeful,” he said, “but over time this concern for humankind and for all of the creatures on the planet will become more a part of moral philosophy.”