Shades of green at Cannes

Some baby eco-steps amid the waste

With the festival screening of Leonardo DiCaprio's "The 11th Hour" and last year's premiere of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," it's obvious that environmental documentaries have found favor with Cannes programmers.

Less obvious is whether the message of these films is having any effect on Cannes and the hordes of film executives swarming the Croisette. The green message of "11th Hour" stands in sharp contrast to the tons of carbon emissions and mountains of trash produced during the festival.

"Cannes is an icon of waste and consumption, but it is also an icon of cinema, where the world's attention is focused," said Leila Conners Petersen, co-director of "11th Hour." "While it's upsetting to see all the waste here, Cannes also provides a unique opportunity to get the green message out."

There are some signs that that message is sinking in, slowly.

For the first time, the American Pavilion has a carbon-neutral footprint, having bought carbon offset credits through the U.S. group Native Energy to match the energy it wastes. The AmPav also has a 40-strong "Green Team" of students trawling the international pavilion and Cannes hotels, collecting recyclables from festival attendees.

The Marche du Film introduced its own recycling bins this year, another first.

Even In Competition entry "No Country for Old Men" trumpeted its green status. The credits of the Coen brothers feature state that the film's production had been carbon neutral, also thanks to carbon-offset credits purchased through Native Energy.

But these efforts to go green pale when compared to the Bacchanalian excess that is a Cannes trademark.

"It really drives you crazy sometimes," said Julie Sisk, manager of the American Pavilion and initiator of all its environmental programs. "Just the red carpet alone — that's just pure plastic underneath. And they rip it up and toss it out. Some 5,000 square feet of carpet, right in the landfill."

Sisk notes that "none, not one" of the dozens of other national pavilions have approached the AmPav for advice on how to green up their operations.

Talk of Cannes developing an environmental conscience draws mainly snorts of disbelief from cynical market execs.

"The only green you can see at Cannes is money," said Mark Urman, head of U.S. theatrical at ThinkFilm.

But Kenny Ausubel, founder of the environmental group Bioneers and an expert who appears in "11th Hour," thinks that Cannes actually is an appropriate metaphor for the current state of the planet.

"Right now, I think that humanity is acting a lot like a movie star trashing a hotel room at Cannes when it comes to the environment," Ausubel said. "Maybe that's a message we should also get out there."