A sustainable film industry
The show must go green
Many films and documentaries explore environmental issues or call for a more sustainable lifestyle. Is the industry living up to its own values though, and just how green is German film?
By Lucas Barwenczik
Starting perhaps with the international success of Al Gore and Davis Guggenheim’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, more and more movies and documentaries have explored the issue of sustainability. Blockbusters like James Cameron’s Avatar, until recently the most successful film at the international box office, link entertaining action with ecology. A number of German productions, such as Zeit für Utopien (Utopia Revisted), Die grüne Lüge (The Green Lie) and Taste the Waste, also call for a more sustainable way of living and working. Yet films that broadcast a message of conservation hide an inherent contradiction. They have been made using complicated, energy-intensive technology that clashes with their demand for a more sustainable lifestyle. The crew often flies halfway around the world to film and generates mountains of rubbish in the process. These two things don’t seem to fit together.
The film industry is taking action
“Germany’s films are getting greener”, the German government announced in a February 2020 press release. Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media Monika Grütters jointed with television stations, film funding agencies and industry associations to sign a joint declaration to pursue sustainable film and series production. The signatories - from ZDF and RTL to Netflix and Sky – all agreed to reduce resource consumption and other negative ecological impacts of film production. Their sights are firmly fixed on the future however, such as an upcoming amendment to the German Federal Film Funding Act designed to emphasise sustainability as a funding criterion. Declaration in favour of sustainability in film and series production: Federal Commissioner for Culture Monika Grütters with representatives of the film and television industry in February 2020 | Photo (detail): © picture alliance/dpa/Wolfgang Kumm This is not a new idea, and some film funding agencies had already integrated green criteria into their guidelines well before this public declaration of intent. Broadcasters and film companies have also developed their own sustainability strategies. This is thanks in part to the Green Shooting working group, whose members – roughly a dozen production companies, film associations, broadcasters and funding institutions - have been campaigning for more sustainable film productions since 2017 and are leading by example.
CO2 calculators and green funding criteria
Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein (FFHSH), for example, began issuing the Grüner Filmpass (Green Film Pass, previously known as Grüner Drehpass) in 2012. Since April 2020, the Green Film Pass has been a requirement for predominantly German-financed productions shot in Germany to access FFHSH funding. It was most recently awarded to the police procedural Tatort episode Die goldene Zeit (The Golden Age), which, among other things, cut back on waste and did not use diesel generators during filming. Other winners include the cult TV show Verstehen Sie Spaß (Can You Take a Joke), the feature film Sauerkrautkoma (The Aroma of Sauerkraut) and the Sky series 8 Tage (8 Days) – to name just a few.
NDR’s Hamburg franchise of the police procedural “Tatort” with Franziska Weisz (left) and (Wotan Wilke Möhring) and has garnered the Green Shooting Pass for several productions, including the episode “Die goldene Zeit” (The Golden Era), which was first broadcast in February 2020. | Photo (detail): © NDR/Christine Schröder
The Baden-Württemberg state film funding agency (Medien- und Filmgesellschaft Baden-Württemberg, MFG) also included sustainability criteria in its 2019 funding guidelines. This is a potentially powerful instrument, since many productions depend on government funding. Together with the KlimAktiv agency and Südwestdeutscher Rundfunk (SWR) broadcasters, MFG has created a green-shooting CO2 calculator to assess and optimise production emissions. According to SWR production manager Michael Becker, this is a “tool [...] film producers can use to generate data to help prevent pollution at all phases of production in future.”
Individual training institutes are also responding. In the 2019 winter semester, Stuttgart Media University launched a green consultant certification programme which qualifies filmmakers as specialists for sustainable film and media production. And Bavaria Film near Munich makes green film production particularly easy. The especially climate-friendly studios are heated by geothermal energy, powered by hydroelectric power and the company’s photovoltaic system, illuminated by energy-efficient lighting, and recycling is a priority. Bavaria Film was awarded the Green Film Pass in 2016 for the environmentally friendly production of the TV show “Verstehen Sie Spaß?” (Can You Take a Joke?). The team’s green measures included using LED studio lights, green electricity, electric vehicles for employees, abandoning plastic cups in catering, waste separation and paper recycling. | Photo (detail): © SWR/Wolfgang Breiteneicher
100 times green electricity and waste separation
Minister Grütters also joined forces with the Green Shooting working group in early 2020: in a joint sustainability initiative, they announced plans for a sustainability certificate and around 100 ecological film productions over the next two years - with green electricity, low-emission vehicles, fewer diesel generators and less air travel, paperless offices, sustainable catering, waste separation and energy-efficient lighting.
The sustainability initiative was introduced at the Berlinale 2020, which proved to be a good fit, since the international film festival focused on green filming and environmental protection too. Lots of events with titles like “Green Film Production 2.0 - Beyond reusable coffee cups” and “The Show Must Go Green” raised awareness of environmental concerns and the sustainability of the festival itself was also addressed. Organisers took steps to reduce the ecological footprint of this major event, using a red Berlinale carpet made from recycled fishing nets and other nylon waste and prohibiting the use of disposable tableware.
These improvements do not yet add up to a revolution though. The film industry - like many other industries - has been slow to respond to all these new challenges, and there are many different, separate declarations and initiatives following different approaches. It will take some time to see whether this push to turn filming green will actually lead to long-term, lasting changes.