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Focus on Green Film Shooting : Birgit Heidsiek

Focus on Green Film Shooting : Birgit Heidsiek

At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, German initiative Green Film Shooting organized the second edition of a sustainability panel at the Italian Pavilion in the luxurious Hotel Majestic. Co-hosted by the Cine-Regio Green Subgroup, it brought together a group of sustainability front runners from all over the world. A good opportunity for Green Film Making to catch up with Green Film Shooting’s Birgit Heidsiek, and ask her about the results in Cannes and the current situation of sustainable production on her own turf: Germany.

Your latest Cannes panel: Sustainability First was the fifth you organized so far (after 3 editions in Berlin and 1 in Cannes). It seems that sustainable production is still on the radar.

It is crucial to bring green film production to the attention of the industry at a huge event such as the Cannes Film Festival. We were delighted that the German film In the Fade by Fatih Akin which has been awarded a Green Shooting Card by the Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein, was presented in competition.

We had a good mix of speakers who shared their green expertise such as Christiane Dopp from Hamburg Film Commission, the Film London‘s Adrian Wootton and Pedro Barbadillo who is going to introduce a green program at the Mallorca Film Commission. Italy had a strong presence with Nevina Satta of the Sardegna Film Commission, and Luca Ferrario from the Trentino Film Fund. New York-based producer and PGA Green Founder Lydia Dean Pilcher spoke about her latest green production, the Disney film Queen of Katwe. She explained how EcoSupervisor Emillie O’Brien trained two crew members who became eco supervisors on set in Uganda and South Africa. This year’s Producer on the Move Verena Gräfe-Höft pointed out that she already produced her 2013 Cannes entry Nothing Bad Can Happen sustainably because it saved the production money. They did measures such as car sharing and were avoiding the use of plastic bottles, which was just natural for her since she is also doing this in her private life.

Birgit Heidsiek (right), Nevina Satta (left) and Audrey Dana at the Cannes panel

And we were proud to have Audrey Dana at our panel who made her first public appearance as Ecoprod Ambassador. She spoke about her experience when she was shooting the comedy Si, j’étais un homme which she had written, directed and starred in as leading actress. She stressed how difficult it is to change behavior. She literally had to beg people to manage waste, even though it was her own film.

At the panel discussion, we also presented the 2017 Cine-Regio Green Report which gives an overview about the activities of the various green film initiatives all across Europe. Our goal is that by 2020, at least half of all productions in the regions should be produced sustainably. A few days later at the Cine-Regio Green Subgroup meeting in Cannes we discussed an action plan. This will be continued at the next meeting in Malmö at the end of September where we will also have a Green Panel discussion.

Can you talk a bit about the context in Germany?

In Germany we have very complex film funding system that provides production support on the national level by the Federal Film Board (FFA), and the German Federal Film Fund as well as various funds on the regional level. In total, there are about 400 million euro film funding support.

In addition, in Germany are about a dozen regional funds that provide money if the productions generate economic effects in their region. This system leads to the situation that producers are collecting funding support in different regions all across Germany and have to shoot there for a few days in order to fulfill the economic requirements. Sometimes they have to travel with their crew from East to the West or from North to the South although they could shoot the scenes in the region where they come from.

Crew of ‘In the Fade’ with their Green Shooting Card

Green shooting practices have been introduced to the German film industry by the Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein (FFHSH) ) that launched the Green Shooting Card in 2012. Meanwhile, this green production seal has been given out to almost hundred productions; among them feature films, TV movies, series, documentaries, animated films, shorts, 3D films as well as TV shows. Furthermore, the film fund organizes workshops on green production measures for the various departments such as camera and light, production design and catering. Although these actions have inspired some other regions to come up with green measures there is still very little awareness in the German Film/ TV industry. A real game changer could be the TV stations if they require from their commissioning productions to go green. So far, there are only some approaches of public and private TV stations that implement energy-efficiency measures in their studio facilities in order to safe costs.

It is actually the lack of demand why equipment such as LED lights, hybrid generators or electric cars are not available outside of big cities. The suppliers don’t buy this kind of equipment if they can’t rent it out frequently while production managers can’t bring down the carbon footprint of a film when the LED lights have to be transported over hundreds of kilometers. But this infrastructure issue is not a particular German problem. There is a lack of more environment-friendly equipment anywhere outside big film metropoles such as Paris London, Berlin, New York or Los Angeles.

What about the new film funding law that includes sustainability?

Since January of this year, sustainability is embodied in the new German Film Law and a self-declared obligation clause has been inserted in the funding guidelines of the German Federal Film Fund. The law now includes a recommendation but not a strict requirement to go green. The production support is not linked to the delivery of a carbon footprint and there are no financial incentives either if a production goes green. But it is a first step. It is crucial to communicate green production in a positive way. Some producers still think that sustainability comes down to do’s and don’ts but it can actually be cost saving to manage resources more carefully.

After 5 years in the field, what is still the biggest challenge in green film production in your opinion?

We need to create awareness and to turn it into action – not only the film industry but also in many other sectors such as energy, transportation and food. Due to the fact that crew members as well as consumers don’t see a direct link between their action and its impact on the environment they use plastic bottles or eat a lot of meat. They are not aware that plastic is polluting our oceans and factory farming generates more than 50 percent of the worldwide carbon emissions. We need a real policy change because we are destroying the basic elements such as ground, water and air that we need for our living. Due to the agricultural industry and the use of pesticides our fertile soil will literally turn into concrete on the long run. The scenarios of hunger, drought, floods and hurricanes are becoming reality.

In Europe, it already seemed to be a big deal to have two million refugees. If we don’t change our lifestyle towards more sustainability we will be in big trouble. What are we gonna do if 80 million climate refugees need to escape? – We all need the planet earth to live on but the earth can exists without humans. The good news is that there are already solutions how we can solve our problems. But it needs to be done quickly because the clock is ticking.

Which development in sustainability are you most excited about?

Green film production comes not only down to the shooting process because the post production also has a huge impact in terms of carbon emissions. Our entire digital communication requires a tremendous amount of energy. Think about how many emails, texts, images and videos are online all across the world and it is getting more every minute. According to Cisco’s prognosis, the worldwide IP traffic will triple the amount of data up to 3.3 zettabyte by 2021. Most of the servers in the data centers are not powered with renewables and about 30 percent of their energy is used for cooling.

I learned at a Carbon War Room meeting that one Google hit is the equivalent of driving a car for 40 meters…! Of course it depends on the type of car (laughs), but it makes it visible how big the impact is. When it comes to use of computers and smart phones, the terminology is often misleading. There is no cloud in the sky that is storing our data – there are just servers that are consuming energy and emitting heat!

But the computer generated heat in data centers and post production studios where visual effects are produced and animated images are rendered, can be used to heat buildings or even a swimming pool as several smart solutions in Paris are proving.

The good news are that the intelligent innovations are there. We can use them to manage precious resources more carefully which is a win-win situation for our financial budgets and the environment. We just have to act!

Green Film Shooting provides a platform for sustainability in the media industry. Want to know more? Check their website. Green Film Shooting also publishes a yearly print magazine in English and German about the latest trends in green filmmaking. See the 2017 edition here: 


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