The role of eco-festivals in the age of Greta Thunberg

Posted on November 6, 2019 by Davide Abbatescianni

Categories: General, Pop-up and Event Cinema

Amidst the ongoing climate crisis, what can festivals do to raise awareness and operate responsibly? Davide Abbatescianni, Ireland correspondent for Cineuropa, spoke to seven European members of the Green Film Network (GFN), one of the world’s largest networks of environmental film festivals, to find out. Here he shares useful tips to engage audiences, promote positive values and encourage environmental sustainability.

In this delicate historic phase, climate change is undeniably at the centre of the public debate. The passionate speeches of young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, the visible effects of global warming, the recent Amazon rainforest fires, among many other events, have brought huge media attention – and rightfully so – to this emergency. Meanwhile, our consumption levels and CO2 emissions are still growing recklessly; this year, for instance, the Earth Overshoot Day was 29 July. In other words, we consumed all of the planet’s 2019 available resources about five months in advance.

It leaves us all thinking: What can we do? How can we set an example? How can we be environmentally friendly? These important questions are also being tackled by eco-festivals, which are now gaining more visibility than ever. In light of the world’s devastating transformations, their programming strategies are currently being reshaped and re-discussed among festival organisers. As of today, the Green Film Network, one of the world’s largest networks of eco-festivals, is promoting a fruitful exchange of successful ideas and practices. As Peter O’Brien, a board member of the GFN and organiser of Washington-based DCEFF Environmental Film Festival, explained: “We have made an effort to regularly communicate and work with the entire network in a productive and collegial manner. Our mission is to join the skills, knowledge and resources of international environmental film festivals, in order to create a strong platform for environmental film-making, advocacy and deeper global awareness among decision-makers, media, youth and general audiences. We currently have over 40 member festivals across North and South America, Europe and Asia, and we continue to grow.”

We had the chance to talk to seven GFN members: Mário Branquinho from Portugal’s CineEco, Corina Moldovan-Florea and Anca Caramelea from Romania’s Pelicam, Nicolas Guignard from France’s Festival du Film Vert (FFV), Petra Holzer and Ethem Özgüven from Turkey’s Bozcaada International Festival of Ecological Documentary (BIFED) and Gaetano Capizzi from Italy’s Cineambiente.

Diretor of CineEco, Mário Branquinho, Diretor Werner Boote and indigenous leader Ailton Krenak

“Eco-boring” programming and eco-festivals as movements

Discussing programming tips, Mário Branquinho from CineEco said: “We need to select cinematically attractive films that tackle clear problems, tell engaging stories and propose solutions. We need eye-catching pieces that can attract large audiences, not to spread the idea that environmental films are eco-boring. Covering the specific, different issues is also very important. However, I believe that the main focus should be on reducing waste, energy efficiency and new economic models.”

Moreover, Branquinho offered an interesting perspective on the role of eco-festivals: “Film festivals should also act as movements and cannot just screen eco-films for a week. In the case of CineEco, we work all year round in over 40 Portuguese cities, performing extended programming for the general public, schools and universities. The recent climate emergency has strengthened our visibility among young people, bringing about much enthusiasm and participation. Eco-festivals should take advantage of this unique moment and double their commitment by providing good eco-films to better fulfill their mission.” CineEco also played a major role in other community projects, such as the establishment of the Environmental Education Center (CISE), the elimination of plastics in municipal complexes and the introduction of LED lamps for public lighting in Seia.

Engaging uninterested local audiences and downsizing

Moldovan-Florea and Caramelea from Pelicam agree with Branquinho’s strategy: “We showcase films aimed to bring the public closer to environmental issues, while also being a pleasant visual experience. These are mostly nature documentaries, animated fiction or documentary films and children’s films.”

Furthermore, another important aspect of their programming is the focus on the local public: “We organise our selection and discussions around topics that are relevant to the social and economic landscape of Tulcea and our closeness to a UNESCO Heritage Site, the Danube Delta.” Pelicam aims to reduce its impact by limiting the usage of plastic and printed materials, reusing festival banners for tote bags and merchandise, serving local and seasonal food and, of course, recycling as much as possible. Nonetheless, they admit: “We still have a long way to go, especially given the lack of interest and appropriate infrastructures in Romania.”

Screening venue at CineEco

“The film is just a starting point”

Guignard highlighted the mission of FFV: We consider our festival as a place for discussion and reflection. The film is just a starting point. This means that what happens before and after the screening is also extremely important. We invite experts who try to answer all the questions coming from the audience, especially the most important one: what can we do? Outside the theatre, we invite NGOs to have a booth and organise parallel activities. Our viewers are already aware of the issues; the main idea is to encourage them to take action.”

In terms of internal organisation, FFV promotes teleworking, serves vegetarian food, uses certified renewable energy sources and requires guests to come by train. Speaking about programming strategies, Guignard shared a precious tip: “We are very careful when looking for sponsors. It is essential not to accept partners that would like to influence our choices, even passively. The fear that a film may displease a sponsor is a dangerous form of self-censorship.”

Apart from organising environmentally responsible festivals, Guignard added: “It would be interesting to involve the entire film industry. On the one hand, more attention should be paid to the ecological balance sheet; on the other hand, the industry should rethink the characters’ values. It is very rare to see heroes with an ecological conscience, to be attentive to waste, to make small everyday gestures and being seen like someone normal. This would be an effective way to promote positive values to a wider audience.”

Addressing diversity

Holzer and Özgüven from BIFED shared their takes on addressing gender equality and representing the Global South: “We are not supporting the general trend of filmmakers from the Global North coming to the Global South and exploiting the pain of the people from the South. We try to include stories of people struggling and looking for new ways of resistance, maintaining an equal balance of films from the Global North and the Global South, of big and small productions, made by activists and other storytellers, favouring a plurality of genres and styles. We are also very proud of our efforts in terms of gender equality – since its inception in 2014, our festival hosts a minimum of 50% women directors and jurors, way before the start of the #MeToo campaign.”

Screening for kids, CineEco

Engaging young audiences

Capizzi from Cinemambiente pointed out that the most successful outreach initiatives are linked to concrete actions that can improve a community’s quality of life. For example, he mentioned that the screening of Fredrik Gertten’s documentary Bikes vs. Cars was useful to kick off a sustainable mobility campaign in Turin. Besides, the festival works with students of all ages and organises a dedicated strand, called “Cineambiente Junior”. Cineambiente has also established well-oiled partnerships with universities. Recently, Capizzi proposed an experimental form of engagement. A small group of students watches an eco-film, delves into its topics supervised by their lecturers and, finally, organises a public screening of said film. An open debate follows, during which the students act as subject-matter experts. Their work is marked and is worth a certain number of credits. Alongside their work with young audiences, Capizzi suggested employing other eco-friendly practices in festival operations and production; such as using lead-free ink in (essential) printing, and considering trying to achieve carbon neutrality through purchasing offsets of CO2 emissions.

For more information about the Green Film Network and their work, click here

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