Eighth grader tackles lead pipe issue in winning environmental short


Lion Birnecker, an eighth grade student at Evanston, developed an interest in film last year.

Lion, who is homeschooled, took some online filmmaking classes and decided to submit a film to the One Earth Young Filmmakers competition, which invites third-year college students to create a short film about a environmental subject. The annual competition is sponsored by One Earth Collective, a non-profit organization based in Oak Park.

Lion Birnecker (Submitted Photo)

“I thought it would be a fun opportunity to practice my skills and learn about an important topic,” Lion said.

On February 3, an exciting email landed in Lion’s inbox. His six-minute film “Take Action Against Lead” won the competition’s top prize of $200 for the college level.

Lion’s film provides a brief history of the use of lead in ancient Roman aqueducts before examining the toxic substance in today’s Chicago, which has more lead pipes than any other city.

“It’s durable, strong, cheap and easy to get. It has been used for 6,000 years. It’s also toxic,” he explains in his film, which ends with a list of steps people can take to protect themselves from this substance, which has been linked to neurological problems and is particularly harmful to children and infants. .

Lion said he chose lead as the subject of his film because he wanted to highlight an environmental issue affecting the Chicago area.

In their Feb. 3 email, the judges wrote that Lion’s film brings a new sense of urgency to the issue. “We knew about the harmful effects of lead pipes in Flint, Michigan, but little did we know that Chicago also had such a serious problem,” the email read.

His film will stream virtually at 3 p.m. Saturday. Tickets for the screening are available here and the movie will be posted later here.

In addition to receiving $200, Lion won a $200 matching grant that he can donate to a nonprofit organization linked to his film. He chose Current Water, a Chicago nonprofit that develops water management technologies.

“They do a lot of great work,” he said.

Lion heard about the One Earth Young Filmmakers competition after his mother, Sonat Birnecker Hart, found it online while looking for youth filmmaking opportunities, she wrote at the roundtable. .

“I’m really proud that Lion decided to work on a film about a local environmental topic,” she wrote. “I can’t wait for the screening.”

She added that Lion learned a lot about lead, especially its prevalence in Illinois.

Lion has mainly been taking online classes since the start of the pandemic. During this time, her family moved from Chicago to Evanston, where her grandmother lives.

The teenager has big plans on the horizon. On Friday morning, Lion received an email from a start-up asking him to do some video editing. “That’s probably what I’m going to work on next,” he said.


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