John Leben, Director

2021 "Special' Feature Film Winner 

Screen Shot 2021-10-09 at 12.54.45 PM.png

John Leben’s formal training is in Painting having earned a BFA in Painting from the University of Illinois (Urbana) and an MFA in Painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He was also a scholarship student at the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine.

He has exhibited widely in the U.S. including shows at the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago’s Michael Wyman Gallery, Harris Bank in Chicago, the John Deere World Headquarters in Peoria, Illinois. After a move to Saugatuck, Michigan his work hung in the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Muskegon Museum of Art, Kalamazoo Institute of Art, South Haven Art Center, Lowell Arts Council, and the Holland Area Arts Council as well as numerous group shows at galleries and museums around the midwest.

Leben’s media production company, Leben Productions, produced hundreds of films and videos for corporate clients and public television, including the hit PBS series Painting on Location with Bob Fagan and numerous documentaries on Michigan topics. John retired his production company in 2010 to focus on his first love, fine art.

In recent years Leben has turned to the computer as his medium of choice, exhibiting widely in Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. His award-winning Environmental Series has won wide acclaim warning about the dangers of global warming and the unintended consequences of the rash pursuit of technological solutions to global problems. Leben resides in Saugatuck Michigan with his wife, Marcia, and owns the LebenArt Gallery in nearby Douglas, Michigan.

Leben’s writing credentials include a self-published novel called “Speed Tile” about a mysterious artifact found in Michigan’s sand dunes. The novel is available on Amazon and at your request.

Director Statement

The movie, "Amy and the Tortoise" started out as a book for kids aged 10-16, fully illustrated by the digital paintings I've been doing on environmental topics for the past ten years. The book is in very limited release (not yet for sale) as an eBook which was produced solely to use as a demo to attract a literary agent who could help me find a print publisher. I began production of this movie for the same purpose but soon came to realize the power of this movie in itself. My goal is to find distribution channels for both the movie and the book to help deliver the message of sustainability to a young audience.

Amy, a twelve-year-old girl, lives under a glass dome and sometimes has to wear a gas mask when the elephants let her go outside. Her outside friend is Gus, a grumpy 100-year-old tortoise. Amy narrates Gus's story of an environmental disaster when humanity almost destroyed the planet.


Technocrats called Bald-Headed Suiters created habitats for people to live in a worsening environment beset by storms, floods, and unbreathable air. But the Suiters cared little about the planet or the animals that populated it. Their solutions were short-sighted, only focused on the survival of humanity.


After the forests burned in the fires of global warming, the suiters built villages under giant glass domes where people could breathe manufactured air. But then a funny thing happened. With humanity isolated under glass, the world began to heal. Humanity, and especially the Bald-Headed Suiters, were like a virus, sickening the planet. The animals, including Gus the tortoise, noticed the change and went to work rebuilding the forests... their homes that were devastated by the fires of global warming.


As the forests grew the Suiters dreamt of rebuilding their cities and reestablishing their dominance over nature sets the stage for an epic struggle between the animals and the suiters.