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After a 2020 cancellation and a muted 2021, this year’s Cannes Film Festival is expected to bring hordes of A-listers, top-level executives, and fervent festivalgoers back to the Croisette. And while this likely means a bigger boon for the entertainment business and local economy, the environmental toll of the storied French fest has begun to be taken into greater consideration.
Ahead of last year’s 74th iteration, the festival outlined a 12-point series of measures that are meant to lessen its environmental impact, noting that “the time has come for a radically different way of producing a major international event.” These included a 50 percent reduction in paper printing, electric or hybrid vehicles making up 60 percent of official festival cars, plus the elimination of single-use plastic water bottles.
After all, while film studios and entertainment companies have shown ever-increasing interest and gains in going green, the same consideration has not yet fully extended to ancillary events, such as film festivals. In Hollywood, discussions about how to make productions greener have been around for nearly two decades, with such organizations as Environmental Media Association (EMA) and PGA Green offering guides, toolkits and certifications for eco-friendly filming.
Debbie Levin has been the CEO of EMA, which links entertainment and the environmental communities with the hopes of bringing sustainability, since 2000. Levin notes that “there was no one” in the studio system designated to “greening” film sets back then. Now, each major studio has in-house departments dedicated to sustainable production.
“Every company now has awareness of their responsibility to be sustainable. There’s really not any corporate environment that doesn’t know that is going to have to be part of their business plan going forward,” says Michael Hahn, who, with Dan Rosenfelt, co-founded Atlanta’s Electric Owl Studios, the first LEED Gold Certified studio in the world. The duo notes that there is still a prevailing notion that building something as eco-friendly can make it cost-prohibitive. “About two years ago, we reached somewhat of a tipping point in the cost factor with building sustainably,” says Hahn.
On the festival front, back in 2010, EMA worked with the Sundance Film Festival to focus on eco-friendly initiatives, helping the fest to rid itself of single-use plastic water bottles. But, notes Levin, “the festivals, in and of themselves, are so unwieldy because you’ve got people coming from everywhere.” Unlike film sets, film festivals have a multitude of people and entities, each with own wants and needs, converging on one location. Travel, lodging and personal habits are difficult to control at festivals, outside of festival-sponsored events.
Some eco-friendly considerations for film festivals offered by experts have included battery-powered generators, LED lights for carpets or partnering with local composting operations to dispose of food waste. At Cannes, green initiatives run the gamut from festival catering using seasonal ingredients to recycling the red carpet outside the Palais.
Still, the carbon emitted from travel is always the biggest polluter for any operation. “I know that [it] equals luxury for some people,” begins one industry sustainability expert, but everyone “should get rid of the Escalades.” Cannes offers a pass to badge holders that allows access to public transit within the city and has added electric vehicles to its fleet of festival cars. Still, air travel to France is the single biggest carbon contributor associated with the festival, with private air travel exacerbating this footprint.
For a Gulfstream G550, a jet capable of long-range travel and can seat 18 people, traveling the equivalent miles from Los Angeles to Nice, the carbon emission numbers, according to a private jet emission calculator, will release over 90,000 lbs of C02. A commercial flight traveling the same distance can release 180,000 lbs of carbon with a per-passenger spend of 2,300 lbs of carbon, according to an emissions calculator from the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Private jet companies offer carbon offset initiatives, where a customer can donate to environmental projects as a way of attempting to offset the carbon emitted by their commute, and private jet carpooling programs. Wheels Up, an “on-demand” private aviation company, hosts a “Shared Flight Board” on its mobile app where members can find other customers looking to travel to the same destination. Nonetheless, private travel has a greater net carbon footprint than commercial travel. “First class is really nice,” laughs one industry expert. “It’s not a catastrophe.”
The greenest option for a film festival and market is making them virtual. It is one that requires no travel or disruption to local environments. Hollywood has been well-practiced in such events over the past two years with the pandemic, but the deficient experience and business of online festivals and markets have been lamented since their inception.
Producer Mari-Jo Winkler is a co-founder of PGA Green, which publishes the green Production Guide and education series on how film sets can reduce their carbon footprint. In 2021, her film Stillwater screened out of competition at the festival. Says Winkler, “A film getting into Cannes, and going to a festival is a cherry on top. It’s not always expected. I was shooting at the time in Toronto, [I] felt like we’d suffered through COVID for a year and I thought, you know what, if the world opened up for a brief moment I [would go].” After booking an airplane, the producer purchased carbon offsets from Cool Effect, a crowdfunding platform that supports global carbon-reducing projects.
While Winkler says that carbon offsets aren’t the answer to all environmental woes, she notes, that they are, at the very least, an option to consider. “Though we need institutional changes to make the biggest impact in the carbon footprint reduction of film festivals, we also need to take personal action. Every ounce of carbon is precious right now.”
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