Safe Grow Montgomery Activists Star in New Environmental Documentary

Photo | Helen Jurkowski (L to R) Julie Taddeo, Jennifer Quinn, Ethan Quinn, Alex Stavitsky-Zeineddin and Catherine Cummings attend the screening of “Ground War at the March 19 Environmental Film Festival in DC.

Photo | Helen Jurkowski
(L to R) Julie Taddeo, Jennifer Quinn, Ethan Quinn, Alex Stavitsky-Zeineddin and Catherine Cummings attend the screening of “Ground War” at the March 19 Environmental Film Festival in DC.

Kentlands resident Alex Stavitsky-Zeineddin and her Safe Grow Montgomery (SGM) colleagues are featured in a 2018 documentary titled “Ground War: When Playing Fields Become Battlefields.”

When it premiered as part of the Environmental Film Festival on March 19 at D.C.’s E Street Cinema, some members of the all-volunteer group that works to end exposure to non-essential lawn pesticides in Montgomery County were there. The audience of about 50 people “loved it,” Stavitsky-Zeineddin said.

SGM’s grassroots activism—which included getting 4,000 signatures, 2,000 letters, the testimony of 200 people and the support of more than 50 partners—resulted in the Healthy Lawns Act (Bill 52-14); the Oct. 20, 2015 law restricts the use of lawn care pesticides on public and private property. Montgomery County was the first county in the United States to enact such a law.

The 80-minute film documents writer-producer-director Andrew Nisker’s investigation into his father’s death that revealed the damage wrought by the rampant use of pesticides. Stavitsky-Zeineddin summarized the storyline: “(After the) filmmaker’s father dies of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Andrew investigates links between exposure to pesticides used in golf courses and lawns as a probable cause.”

The film, Stavitsky-Zeineddin added, “does a good job of making the audience see how the pesticide industry has created a concept of a perfect golf course and lawn without weeds, using lots of pesticides to maintain that. It also focuses on the laws recently enacted to protect people, pets, children from exposure to pesticides.”

When Nisker reached out to SGM activist Julie Taddeo, he learned “we were getting together before the hearing for the law to make posters with our kids,” StavitskyZeineddin said. He joined them at Taddeo’s home where he filmed the poster-making and interviewed the participants.

“I had a small part as did Pierre, my son,” Stavitsky-Zeineddin said. “No soundbites, but the movie focuses for a good 10  minutes on our group’s efforts to get Healthy Lawns Bill passed.”

As for the documentary’s content, Stavitsky-Zeineddin believes it “did a good job in bringing up the problem of big industry funding, paying, owning a lot of the advertising and further pushing the idea of a perfect green lawn concept as well as pristine golf courses.”

However, she feels that the film “is not so clear that the current law, Bill 52-14, is awaiting a court decision about the county’s ability to regulate the use of pesticides on private property. It is not clear … that the public property regulations are not being contested and as such, Bill 52-15, Healthy Lawns Act, is meant to be followed up.”

As far as the artistry, Stavitsky-Zeineddin said, “I thought the documentary was well shot and visually beautiful as much of the shots are drone aerial shots of golf courses and beautiful fall trees in Canada.”

Nisker, Stavitsky-Zeineddin said, plans to travel with the film, first to New York. And SGM, she noted, will make sure that Montgomery County citizens will be able to see it as well, probably in April or May, either in Silver Spring or Kentlands.

For information about the film, visit groundwar.org. For information on Safe Grow Montgomery, visit safegrowmontgomery.org.

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