Looking at this year’s Sunny Side “going green”, the DOX reporter found a few scratches in the fresh paint.
Is this just a temporary aftermath of “An Inconvenient Truth”, or is the world really developing an environmental consciousness for good? While we all hope for the latter, we’re still slow to change our way of life and work. As the film business is no exception, the Greencode Project set out to galvanise us into action. Marie-France Côté, Sylvie van Brabant, and Peter Wintonick, all of Canada, set out to convince documentary filmmakers and industry events to take on eco-friendly behaviour.
The latest edition of Sunny Side of The Doc was one of the first documentary hubs to accept guidance by the Greencode “preachers”. Actually, “preachers” is unfair, as the Greencoders are not dogmatic – and that makes them likeable. Their website promotes “modest, voluntary, environmentally friendly eco-actions”, “goals that we can all buy into, at our own self-selecting levels.” Greencodeproject.org proposes 32 actions and asks you to implement at least five of them. A spontaneous self-audit leads to 15 ticks in various checkboxes. Cool! This means I can sit back, relax and stick a Greencode badge onto my next film, can’t I? Well, we ticked the double-sided printing on recycled paper, but not “Include a budget line item to assess and take responsibility for your environmental footprint”. Under “Transportation”, there wasn’t even a checkbox for carbon-offsetting. Well, not that we would have been in a position to tick it, mind you.
So how green is Sunny Side? The first impression is great: dozens of yellow bicycles set the scene, available for free commutes between hotels and venues. And they’re actually used. Other eco-commitments only make you wonder how slow the world works: “use of glass bottles in the restaurant” (but only there), catalogues on “partially recycled paper”. When asked about the Greencode effects on Sunny Side, the first example director Yves Jeanneau comes up with is that participants should “avoid throwing things into the port”. While this sounds laughable at first, it turns out to have been a serious issue the year before. “Piles of empty bottles and cigarette stubs” were found in the sea once the makers of, in the widest sense, educational programmes had left the scene. Is this really where we need to start?
“It’s like baby steps,” Sylvie van Brabant says. “Hopefully, it’s going to go fast enough.” To put things in perspective: 1902 participants each collected several kilos of catalogues and brochures (and a Greencode button badge). They travelled to La Rochelle from 46 countries, and while the setting is great, the town isn’t particularly easy to get to. Participants were invited to make their flights “CO2 free”. While the Sheffield Doc/Fest, “the world’s first CO2 free documentary festival”, claims to offset all their guests’ travel, we can only speculate about how many visitors of Sunny Side actually paid a compensation for their emissions. No numbers are available. The Greencode crew wasn’t able to say how much the offset for their own trip from Canada to France would cost, as their newly-founded NGO, the Green Media Institute, didn’t have a budget yet.
“It’s so easy to hide,” says Marie-France Côté. “Offsetting should be made public so it becomes an image thing.” The Greencoders are keenly aware that their current recommendations don’t define reliable standards yet. “Certification really is the key,” agree Sylvie and Marie-France. “But there’s a long way to go.” Last year in The Guardian, George Monbiot compared the concept of carbon-offsetting to the selling of absolutions in medieval Europe. They eliminate the sense of guilt, they allow for continued sins now in exchange for a possible reduction in the future, but they are simply too little, too late.
With ever-increasing numbers of documentary participants travelling to an ever-increasing number of must-attend events, the big question is how much further we want this to expand, or in what ways we can limit these journeys and use other tools instead. As one of the hosts of The D-Word, I’m biased, as I strongly believe in the effectiveness of a functioning online network. Festivals like DOK.Leipzig have introduced server-based video libraries that could eventually be made accessible to buyers worldwide. But the Greencode people have important reasons not to quit travelling just yet: “The impact of what we’re doing is bigger than the impact of the travel,” Sylvie says. And Marie-France adds: “You don’t develop the same kind of relationship to partners if you don’t meet in person.”
Doc-making will continue to involve lots and lots of travelling. In storytelling, the outsider’s observation is often as valuable as the insider’s point of view. So how credible can we be when it comes to advocating less travel? Shouldn’t we fully focus on convincing people through the content of our stories, and not get lost in defining rules by which they are made? The Greencode project is a much needed initiative. We just need to be careful not to be accused of double standards.