'Jens Jensen The Living Green' A feature documentary
Ann Arbor, MI, USA | Viva Lundin Productions and University of Michigan
The video is really important. It ought to reach a wider audience… A lot of things he did were forerunners of our environmentalism today.
- 2017 Awards Jury
- Robert E. Grese, ASLA
- Carey Lundin, Director/Co-productor
- Mark Frazel, Co-producer and Writer
Jens Jensen The Living Green dramatizes the rise of Jens Jensen (1860-1951), an immigrant street sweeper who became one of the nation’s first champions of eco-justice. Jensen’s life illuminates the early battles of urban development that favored the wealthy and led to “park deserts,” ecological design, and our primordial need to connect with “the living green” of nature within the city. With associates Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Dwight Perkins, and Alfred Caldwell, Jensen was inspired by the prairie, for it was not only a style of design but also a symbol of democracy. With Ossian Cole Simonds, he is credited with the Prairie Style of landscape architecture that brought nature to Chicago’s working poor and industrialists leaders. Today Jensen is a model for green activism. From his story we learn how he used his art as activism to save the dunes of Indiana (now both state and national parks), save parks throughout the Midwest, design landscapes for titans of industry (Ford, Armour, Rosenwald), and influence other pioneers of environmentalism such as Aldo Leopold.
In 1910 Jens Jensen said, “to make the modern city livable is the task of our times.” Today, those words could not be more prescient. We made the film to inspire audiences to use their art as activism, as Jensen did, to make our cities resilient.
When we first embarked on making this film 17 years ago, everyone discouraged us, everyone except Professor Robert Grese, ASLA, whose book, Jens Jensen Maker of Parks and Gardens (1992) became the basis of the film. Bob sat for interviews, opened doors, and became a constant and trusted source of encouragement and information. Bob helped us find the story and connect it to present day issues and continues to today. But even though Jensen had a great story – full of drama - he wasn’t a household name, so American Experience wasn’t interested. When we applied for a NEH grant, they gave us an A+ rating for our proposal but declined to fund us because they said we wouldn’t find a national audience.
But we stuck with it, believing in his story, which inspired us, and if it inspired us, we thought, it will inspire others. The road to completion took many twists and turns with countless hours of research, writing and re-writing, three editors and five video and film formats.
We persisted, and two years into the project our work paid off. The day Mark Frazel, the writer and co-producer, and my husband, who sadly passed away last year, got a surprise call from the Milwaukee Public Library that they had indeed found some records labeled “Jens Jensen.” Before the phone could drop to the ground Mark was in a car racing to Milwaukee. Those albums, recorded in the field and scratchy as hell, contained an astonishing interview with Jensen late in his life. Full of poetry, anger and intimacy, the audio turned our video into a real film, with the heart of Jensen saturating every frame.
We paired Jensen with interviews from his acolyte Alfred Caldwell who told the personal story of his setbacks and triumphs and wildly imaginative solutions to societies’ ills.
We spent 13 years finishing the film, and in that time Jensen’s name rose to prominence as an activist story that inspires young and old. And something else amazing happened, the film touched me, it turned me into an advocate for brining nature to our most nature-deprived neighborhoods.
Jensen’s story as an immigrant who worked his way up from the bottom to become a champion for nature has resonated with immigrant teens organizations. After screening and discussing the film with The Student Conservation Association I was able to pair them with a project by NeighborSpace and Trust for Public Lands to build a new nature play space called Jardincito. With the Chicago Park District and the National Park Service, we toured the Dunes for kids who had never been out of the city then discussed Jensen’s obstacles and creative tactics as an activist to stop the destruction of the dunes. And with university students we discussed the bigger picture, the challenges of becoming an activist and the types of projects they might develop to bring nature into the city.
I was curious about Jensen’s neighborhoods, where are they today and how much have they changed? Turns out that most of the park-poor neighborhoods he fought to bring parks to have not changed. Discovering this, I decided to work with the Student Conservation Association, Trust for Public Lands and Neighborspace to help create Jardincito, a nature play space in Chicago’s Little Village, one of the most park-poor and gang beset neighborhoods in the city.
I’m creating a short film about Jardincito and what happens to a violent neighborhood when a tiny park replaces a decades old gang hangout and gives the mothers a safe place to bring their children. The park opened two years ago and amazingly, to this day there has not been any gang violence.
Now I can screen the film and give speeches about Jensen’s inspirational message, how it inspired my life and career, why we need to demand the right to access to nature for all, and how his ideas are affecting a new generation of educators, activists and families to bring “the living green” to their communities. Link to list of speaking engagements.
We’ve received much praise.
"The Mount Rushmore of Prairie School giants is now complete. To Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan add Jens Jensen. This beautiful documentary will inspire generations to come."
Eric Utne, Founder, Utne Reader
“Our attendees loved, loved, loved your talk and film! Best session of the meeting!”
Joanne DeLorenzo Annual Meeting Co-chair, New Jersey ASLA
"powerful...poignant" Humans and Nature
“One of the most inspiring documentaries I have ever seen.”
-Melanie Choukas-Bradley, author, City of Trees; A Year in Rock Creek Park
"Carey Lundin’s extraordinary documentary ignites action, educates and seeds change. This is the mission of Earth Day -- we couldn't be more excited to share the message of Jens Jensen, and help build the next generation of environmental activists"-- Kathryn Stoddard, Earth Day Network
"Jensen's...innovative designs preceded today’s green movement and whose work deserves broader recognition."— Booklist
And won many awards, including: Medal of Honor, 2016, from The Explorers Museum, Tullamore, Ireland
Winner: Hugo Award Chicago International Film Festival
Winner: Audience Award, Best Director, Green Bay Film Festival
Winner: Accolade Award of Excellence
Winner: Best Feature Documentary, Best Director, Best Documentary Editing, Wild Rose Independent Film Festival
Official Selection: Studio City International Film Festival
Official Selection: Architecture and Design Film Festival
Official Selection: International Documentary Film Association
Official Selection: One Earth Film Festival
Official Selection: Wild and Scenic Film Festival
Official Selection: Ft. Myers Film Festival
And we’re happy to report that the nay sayers were dead wrong. The film has found a wide audience, reaching environmentalists, students, educators, landscape architects, city planners and activists around the world. It is an amazing testament to the influence and power of Jens Jensen, named “Dean” of American landscape architecture when he died in 1951. Today the film is shown in many environmental classes around the US and Canada, inspiring many young students of the power of landscape architecture to change lives.
When the film premiered in Chicago’s Millennium Park, with an introduction by Piet Oudolf and simulcast on Chicago’s WTTW, we beat Fox in the ratings and drew an estimated 3,000 to the park. As of this year we have reached 70% of U.S. households and Denmark, with airings on PBS and Danish TV. I am screening the film and delivering speeches all over at educational institutions, garden and civic clubs. The film is available as Video on Demand (VOD) on Amazon and Kinonation and it is licensed to educators via TheVideoProject.com. Today, more than ever, we need Jens Jensen. We need heroes, we need inspiration, we need stories that explain how it’s done and why sticking to your values is crucial to making the modern city livable, and maybe, even, to saving the world.