Friday, October 14, 2011

Constructive Criticism

Two weeks ago I told you about the 12th annual Planet in Focus environmental film festival taking place this week in Toronto. On Wednesday I had the honour of chaperoning Chris Paine, Director of Revenge of the Electric Car, at the Opening Night Gala (to make sure he knew where and when to meet with interviewers, walk the green carpet, and watch the Canadian premiere of his film). Since then I've also lent a hand to Industry Series programming and taken in my share of screenings. What I truly love about helping at the festival is meeting other volunteers, especially those who open my eyes to issues that I hadn't previously considered.

Which brings me to Roberto: he's a student from Chile currently on exchange taking courses in Ryerson's Film Studies program. He and his friend are trying to put together an environmental film festival of their own back home, which is no small feat for two kids in their early 20s. What I wasn't expecting to hear from him is that in addition to featuring films that cover green topics, he hopes to make the festival itself as eco-friendly as possible - and not just greenwash it.

Don't get me wrong, Planet in Focus is getting some things right. VIP Directors, including Mr. Paine and his two guests, were brought to the festival from the airport by green taxi (in other words, in a hybrid Prius). Also, anyone attending the Opening Night Gala and coming on two wheels was treated to a complimentary bike valet. And the two venues at which the screenings are being held are walking distance apart. But sometimes it's the little things that betray either a lack of planning or a disinterest in going the extra mile.

Take the Green Networking Lounge, for example. This event reminds me of speed-dating, where filmmakers get fifteen minutes to chat one-on-one with funders, commissioning editors, and other film and television executives. The festival provided coffee, water, and an assortment of muffins for this event. What was missing? Unlike last year, there were no real plates, real mugs, or real cutlery (instead: countless paper cups, napkins, and stir-sticks). The only concern seemed to be to avoid handing out plastic water bottles. Not that I disagree with that guideline, but it's only a starting point. This is an environmental film festival, after all.

Roberto, bless his young and ambitious heart, wants to see if it's possible to screen films at his festival using stationary bike power. Perhaps we don't need to go quite so far. I'm being a little nit-picky about the finer details and ought to point out that Planet in Focus bought carbon and green energy offsets, which is actually a pretty big deal. And the foodie in me was really happy to see organic milk in glass bottles alongside the coffee! To be completely honest, what motivated this post was the difficulty I'm experiencing in reconciling the fact that in order to bring awareness to the public of issues afflicting the world, film crews have to fly around the globe a few times and then take even more plane trips to tour with their documentaries, and then we sit and watch these films under less than ideal circumstances. I guess for now I have to suck it up and hope that spreading the word about the kinds of issues covered this week is more important than the carbon footprint of filmmaking - and the greenness of the festival itself.

Photo of box office used under Creative Commons from Rae Allen (flickr).
Photo of live music powered by bike used under Creative Commons from Earthnwork (flickr).


  1. I completely see your point Andrea-there is something that doesn't feel quite right about the way the message is brought to the public. I guess I would just think of it as a great starting point with lots of room for improvement. It sounds like Roberto might be willing to take the next step.

  2. Lori - I'm definitely happy enough that members of the public can see these films in the first place. What I might do is start volunteering in the Planet in Focus office to see if I can make a few suggestions for next year's festival!