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Eighth grader tackles lead pipe problem in winning environmental short film – Evanston RoundTable


Evanston eighth grader Lion Birnecker developed an interest in filmmaking last year.

Lion, who is homeschooled, took a couple of online filmmaking classes and decided to submit a film to the One Earth Young Filmmakers Contest, which invites students from third grade through college to create a short film on an environmental topic. The annual contest is sponsored by the One Earth Collective, an Oak Park-based nonprofit.

Lion Birnecker (Submitted photo)

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

On Feb. 3, an exciting email landed in Lion’s inbox. His six-minute film “Take Action Against Lead,” won the $200 first place prize for the contest’s middle school level. 

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

“It is durable, strong, cheap and easy to obtain. It has been used for 6,000 years. It is also poisonous,” he says in his film, which concludes with a list of measures people can take to protect themselves from the substance, linked to neurological problems and especially harmful to children and infants.

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

In their Feb. 3 email, the judges wrote that Lion’s film brought a new sense of urgency to the issue. “We’ve known about the harmful effects of leaded pipes in Flint, Michigan, but had no idea that Chicago had such a serious problem as well,” the email read. 



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