Just how green is cinema today? Issues of sustainability, which are central to the contemporary scientific and political agendas, are beginning to generate specific responses to ecological concerns within the film industry. This is at once unsurprising and necessary, if one considers that the impact of film on the environment is far from insignificant.
A study into the environmental consequences of filmmaking in Hollywood conducted by the University of California’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, for instance, has shown that in the Los Angeles region the film industry “made a larger contribution, in relation to its size, to air pollution than most major industries, including aerospace manufacturing, clothing, and the hotel industry. Only fuel refining belched more emissions”, as The Independent reported. Of course, not all forms of filmmaking can be equated; in her The Cinematic Footprint: Lights, Camera, Natural Resources (Rutgers UP, 2012), Nadia Bozak argues that clear distinctions must be drawn between Hollywood and small, alternative, local, and avant-garde forms of filmmaking, which not only have a far lesser impact, but also often directly critique consumption.
Even so, the fact remains that the “cinema is intricately woven into industrial culture and the energy economy that sustains it” (Bozak 1). Much of the environmental damage associated with the screen production industry, both cinema and TV, arises from location filming and from how production companies treat local sites. In many countries, environmental regulators and/or local authorities have introduced rules for productions using sites that are protected for their environmental, historical or cultural importance.
Filming on location is only one aspect of the relationship between the cinema and the territory. Equally, the emerging awareness of issues of sustainability within the film industry has prompted the desire to see the cinema respond to the formidable ecological questions of today. These have become more visible not only because of new and timely protocols for the production of a green cinema, but also many other initiatives that are themselves territorial through and through.
One such initiative is the Fastnet Film Festival. While not devoted to ecological films or to slow cinema, the Fastnet Film Festival now sustains an exemplary if unforeseen relationship with the territory that hosts it. Established in 2009, the festival lost its main venue after only two years of life—the Harbour View Hotel in Schull, which closed down in 2011. A remnant of Celtic Tiger Ireland, the hotel cost €10m to build in 2007, and replaced the old hotel that had stood on site for over sixty years. Suddenly deprived of its infrastructure, the Festival was confronted with what seemed an insurmountable problem. Rather than admit defeat, however, the organizers took an imaginative and daring decision: they turned the entire village of Schull into a venue. Films would be screened in the village hall, pubs, shops, galleries, a horsebox, a cycling cinema, and on the sides of buildings. In 2012, then, the organizers created “Distributed Cinema”, an intranet through which films are streamed on the Main Street, ready to be viewed by the public using laptops, tablets and smart phones, thanks to nine dedicated wifi hotspots.
The lack of infrastructure and of a cinema theatre proved not to hinder the festival; indeed, it arguably turned into its strength. What it has made possible is the festival’s development as a sustainable enterprise, and its extraordinary embedding in the territory. The festival’s digital turn, then, is wholly in line with its vocation as an independent event, to be one element of the response of a rural community to an unmistakable trend towards cultural centralization. So, each year, the world comes to Schull, and Schull turns outwards to the world: the Festival brings at once business to the region and global films to its local audiences, and organizes workshops of national and international interest, at which film professionals, artists and intellectuals share their craft and engage with the public.
What’s more, the fortunes of the Fastnet Film Festival confirm recent work that sees profound connections between the loss of material natural resources and the rise of digital media and the digitization of film. The digitization of the festival has not led to its virtualization, but rather to a deeper integration into the surrounding territory. The Fastnet Film Festival is green, not because it has had to reinvent environmentally sensitive filming on location, but because its sustainable development has in unparalleled ways brought to the community benefits that include the decentralization, accessibility, and democratization of film culture—to say nothing of a digital infrastructure that will lend itself to yet other unforeseen uses.
Professor of Film and Screen Media
University College Cork