Several times a year the Flemish Audiovisual Fund (VAF) organizes a special ‘Cinema breakfast’, an informal meeting for cinemas, distributors, festivals, cultural centers and other film organizations where new offers and initiatives are presented. The fifth edition was entirely devoted to sustainability and so Green Film Making was invited by our VAF colleague Tim Wagendorp to travel to a chilly Brussels last December 13th. The meeting started early and yet the venue Cinema Nova was packed with a varied group of people from the cultural sector from all over Belgium. Many inspiring examples and initiatives were presented, including the cinema Lewes Depot (UK) founded by Dutchwoman Carmen Slijpen and the eco-strategy of Belgian pop temple Ancienne Belgique. We are pleased to report here on the informative morning with our southern neighbors.

After a breakfast served on an edible napkin, VAFs sustainability coordinator Tim opened the meeting by inviting those present to actively think about taking steps within their own organization or company. It would for example be interesting to calculate exactly what the emission of one film screening is. He also said that the very successful recent Flemish production Girl by Lukas Dhont, that won the Camera d’Or in Cannes, was produced sustainably (a report will follow that we will publish here). After Tim, hostess Marie-Eve of Cinema Nova briefly explained their organization. It’s a unique institute in the field of cinema operators. The cinema runs on volunteers and also has side activities such as the distribution of forgotten films, the preservation of archives such as that of a former porn cinema and they also developed an open source software for projecting subtitles that you can download for free on their website.

Next up was Marc Vrebos, technical director of the Brussels based Ancienne Belgique (AB) which is with 300,000 visitors a year one of the most important pop venues in Belgium and also a leader in the field of sustainability in the cultural sector. Marc explained they have already been taking measures since 2002, which started by replacing disposable cups with reusable cups. Now they receive the special eco-label from the municipal agency Bruxelles Environnement every year. For this you have to prove each year again that you have made progress. Since 2014, the AB has the maximum 3 stars, by reducing their footprint by 5% every 2 years. The AB had a trainee develop a special calculator to monitor their progress. They pay special attention to sustainable transport and mobility. The majority of the public still comes by car and so they try to promote alternatives in various ways. For example, by collaborating with the NMBS railway service and De Lijn busservice for discounts on tickets and by clearly presenting detailed travel information in the lobby of the building. After each performance all current departure times of buses and trains are displayed on the special mobility wall, including walking distances and route maps. All concerts end at 21:30 at the latest so there is no need to run to catch the last metro. Because of these measures, the percentage of visitors who came by car dropped with 20% between 2007 and 2017. They also encourage artists to carpool by giving only a limited number of parking vouchers.

The chicks on the roof of the AB

Other initiatives that the AB has introduced include a repair cafe, LED lighting and a restaurant that now cooks 70% vegetarian. They only use local suppliers of regional, organic and seasonal products. The leftover food from the kitchen is sold for a reduced price. The chickens on the roof are fed with organic waste from the kitchen, their eggs find their way back on the menu. The chickens share the roof with bees. Honey beer is made from the honey of the bees, the proceeds go to charity. In collaboration with De Leiding, PET bottles are no longer sold, only reusable bottles for tap water. A deposit is included in drink prices for the reusable cups and afterwards visitors have the choice to donate their deposit to a charity. Last year, 200,000 euros was collected this way. Cleaning is done with BioOrg, a 100% organic cleaning system, and old office furniture is being upcycled to new ones. They think about everything at the AB! Impressive.

Two foreign guests, from Sweden and England, were also invited to the cinema breakfast for good examples from across the border. Olle Agebro from cinema Fyrisbiografen in Uppsala, Sweden, received the first Europe Cinema Innovation Award at the last film festival in Venice. This modest cinema with 2 rooms, including 1 with only 29 seats, is also run by volunteers and in 2017 they managed to increase their ticket sales by 50%. They did this by carrying out very accurate data analyses and based on that creating the best experience for different types of audiences. For example, they have a special knitting screening once a month. You read it correctly, there is knitting during the film. The screening is sold out every month.

Cinema Lewes Depot

Truly innovative in the field of sustainability though is the cinema of Dutch initiator Carmen Slijpen in Lewes, England. The Depot cinema has 3 screens and has been operating for 1.5 years now. Built on the site of an old warehouse it has been completely designed with sustainability as a guideline. From heating to lighting to the floors, everything was considered to keep the impact as small as possible. Raw materials came from the local area. Temperature in the building can be regulated with a cold and heat storage system (energy is stored in the soil as heat or cold). There is a green roof, with local vegetation, which also regulates the temperature. Almost all energy comes from renewables, through solar panels. All lighting is of course LED. The courtyard has also received a lot of attention. It is designed to reflect the history of the building and has an orchard and vegetation tuned to the environment. Already in the planning phase the project won prizes for its innovation on an ecological and social level.

Carmen Slijpen

As with the AB in Brussels, journeys to and from The Depot by public transport are stimulated by discounts and information screens. Parking is the longest walk of all options. There are no plastic bottles sold and if you bring your own coffee mug you get a 10% discount. The menu in the cafeteria offers vegan dishes made from local products. We would love to take a look at this inspiring place! Carmen started her career at Rialto in Amsterdam, secretly we hope she will come to advise on this side of the water.

It was an intense morning at Cinema Nova, but more than worth it. Afterwards, a nice lunch was provided by Shak’eat who cook with leftovers. Which doesn’t make you sick.

Finally, here a handy tool that was mentioned in this meeting and that could certainly be useful in other countries: Eco Passenger. You can quickly compare the emissions and impact of different types of transport for the same journey.