Lawn lessons; Documentary film 'Gimme Green' digs into sod state of affairs
Ocala Star-Banner | February 9, 2008

     Quick: Which crop, corn, wheat or lawns, is the most watered in the United States?
     The answer is lawns.
     Yep, it's the green stuff growing right outside your door, the same dewy blades you may have gingerly tiptoed through to get this newspaper. The same sod you may feel obligated to mow later on today, or heaven forbid, spray chemicals on to make it greener, lusher, healthier.
     You're not alone in lavishing such attention and money on your lawn. Going to such lengths is the topic of a 27-minute documentary that will be shown Wednesday at Central Florida Community College. The free screening starts at 7 p.m. in the Webber Center on campus and will be followed by a disccusion with the filmmakers.
     "Gimme Green" offers "a humorous look at America's obsession with the residential lawn and the effects it has on our environment, our wallets and our outlook on life," according to the documentary's Web site.
In fact, taking care of our lawns is a $40 billion industry.
Eric Flagg and Isaac Brown, the documentary makers who will lead the forum, made the film while working on their master's degrees in the University of Florida's Documentary Institute.
     "Water quality and availability are critical issues in our community, where roughly half our water is used for landscaping. Nitrates from lawn fertilizers have contributed to the decline in groundwater quality throughout Florida," said Steve MacKenzie, professor of environmental science and chair of CFCC's Sustainability Task Force.
"This timely film will provide insight into the issue."
While making the film, "the biggest thing that really blew our minds was that lawns are the largest irrigated crop," Flagg said. "Especially in Florida, a lot of farmers have switched over to sod. Farmers tend to grow what people really, really want."
The screening at CFCC is part of the college's look within to see how it can reduce its environmental footprint, MacKenzie said. "We're really looking at how we use resources in general."
    The film's producers will spend Wednesday on campus, talking to classes in the morning and then meeting with the school's task force.
"We really want to provide leadership in this arena," MacKenzie said.
The film premiered Feb. 18, 2007, at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Mont., and has won numerous awards, including best documentary in the Beverly Hills Shorts Festival in 2007, a finalist for the International Documentary Association's 2006 David L. Wolper Award, winner of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation College Television Award in 2007 and best documentary in the Oxford International Film Festival in 2007.
     The movie also has been shown on the Sundance Channel.
Now, Flagg and Brown continue to create video projects with environmental themes. They help environmental groups spread their messages. "A big part of change is to have enough interesting information out there," Flagg said.
     "Yes, doing some seemingly small, insignificant things can help" the environment.
He recommends xeriscaping - landscaping in ways that don't require supplemental irrigation.
     "Use more native plants and native landscaping," he added, "and use grass only where you need it."
     Flagg practices what he preaches. He has a front yard and a backyard, but no lawn. He lets the yard do what it wants to do. "Letting your yard go wild is really neat, to see it change throughout the year, to see what pops up."