Cinema for the climate: By working to reduce its carbon footprint, Cannes film festival hopes to inspire others

Cannes Film FestivalChanges were long overdue and necessary because cultural events have the power to influence opinion and action.

At the Oscars and film festivals around the world, the red carpet announces the grand entrance of famous movie stars. At the recently-concluded Cannes film festival, the crimson-hued surface, usually associated with glamour, made an announcement of a different sort. This year, the 74th Cannes film festival, which concluded on July 17, introduced a slew of changes to make it an environment-friendly event. The measures started with the red surface.

Reducing the volume of red carpet by 50% and using recycled and recyclable material was one such green initiative. Other steps included making 60% of the official fleet electric and hybrid, totally eliminating plastic bottles, reducing printed material, efficient waste management and linking participants’ badges with public transport. The festival also reduced electricity consumption through planned lighting, recycled tarpaulins and optimised waste recovery. There was a €20 (approximately Rs 1,800) environmental contribution from festival-goers to compensate for footprint of travel and accommodation.

The festival, the first major global cultural event to return to the physical format after coronavirus paralysed the world, believes the time has come for a radically different way of producing a major international event. Calling for cultural events to be committed campaigners, festival authorities indicated that the changes herald an “essential movement”. The intent and action of the Cannes festival is certain to have a cascading effect on other international film festivals and cultural events to assume greater commitment towards environmental responsibility.

“The challenge is huge, but we will and must succeed each year a little more, each year a little better. Today, we are taking an important and hugely ambitious step. We will report on it regularly, in very practical ways. The 74th edition will herald the future for a festival that will last,” said Cannes festival president Pierre Lescure and artistic director Thierry Frémaux. This year, the festival also introduced a new Cinema for the Climate section to address climate change and global warming concerns through the arts. Seven films from around the world, including

Invisible Demons, a documentary about air pollution in Delhi, were part of the new section.

The world’s biggest film festival, which together with the film market draws about 40,000 professionals to the quiet surroundings of the French Riviera every year, is an ideal place to begin a new thinking of the way large carbon-spewing cultural events are organised. Changes were long overdue and necessary because cultural events have the power to influence opinion and action.

“We need to be responsible for the planet and increasingly think about sustainability,” says Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty, one of the prominent voices for change in the Indian film industry. “It is high time the biggest filmmaking country in the world and the government started thinking about sustainability in the entertainment industry,” adds Pookutty. “If the government can introduce carbon credit for the film industry, it will turn the tide.”

Emphasising that the concern for our surroundings is the biggest awareness the pandemic has given, Pookutty, who won the Oscar for Best Sound Mixing for Slumdog Millionaire, says the policies have to be realigned with the environment for a sustainable living. “Just calculate the carbon emissions of a film unit of a superstar, which needs a 500-people crew for one shoot, one day. It is horrendous, the number of air-conditioning units and generators on the set,” he adds.

Pookutty says if a film unit calculates the carbon footprint they leave behind in a location and, in return, plant “let’s say, 20,000 trees” in another location, the government should extend carbon credit to the unit. “Instead of a red carpet, we need a green carpet, not in colour, but in spirit,” he adds. “What Cannes has done is one step towards the right direction. If one agency can do it, we as a society can also do it.”
Agrees well-known environmentalist Anshu Sharma: “Cannes Film Festival has shown the way for making not just major cultural events, but the entire entertainment industry sensitive to the threat that climate change poses to our future… Cannes is acting as a lighthouse and we look forward to the rest of the industry, and the audience, following suit soon,” says Sharma, co-founder of Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society, a New Delhi-based international NGO. “Reducing carbon footprint is a critical step towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and achieving a net zero world worth handing over to our children.”

Jaipur Literature Festival’s Sanjoy Roy adds, “We have no choice but to follow environmental protocols.” Roy’s Teamworks Art produces major international arts festivals in India and abroad like the JLF and Mahindra Kabira Festival. “Many of our conversations (at the events) are around environmental issues,” says Roy. At the JLF, he explains, Teamwork Arts works with two NGOs in Jaipur and Neemrana to plant 100 trees for every person flying in to attend the festival. “We also encourage our audience to do the same to offset carbon footprint.”

Ritu Sarin, festival director, Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF), says, “Every year, DIFF decreases printing material, discourages F&B vendors from selling single-use and disposable plastics, curates the pop-up market with brands that are eco-friendly, and actively communicates to everyone to walk to the festival venue. In the longer run, DIFF aims to become a zero-waste event and actively promote the concept of sustainable living.”

Cannes’ 12 commitments
l 60% electric or hybrid vehicles
l 50% reduction in paper printing
l Total elimination of plastic water bottles
l 50% reduction in the volume of red carpet
l 24% reduction in red carpet used in Village International areas of film market
l Responsible catering using local circuits and fresh seasonal products
l 95% waste recovery rate
l Environmental contribution from festival to compensate for footprint of event’s production
l Raising awareness of eco-responsible actions among organising team, film market exhibitors, service providers and accredited persons
l Appointment of a scientific committee of independent experts to select reliable and relevant compensation programmes
l Soft mobility incentive through pass for access to public transport
l €20 (approximately Rs1,800) environmental contribution from festival-goers to compensate for footprint of travel and accommodation

Faizal Khan is a freelancer

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