Coming to a Theater Near You: Carbon-Neutral Movie
Author: Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
This means that all of the carbon dioxide emitted by the filmmaking process -- lights, cameras, transportation -- was totaled up and offset by comparable investments in renewable energy. Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.
"For me, it's less of a political statement about global warming, and more just, there's got to be a nicer, cleaner way to do this," said film director and writer Ali Selim in an interview before the movie's Washington opening on Friday.
"Sweet Land" cost about US$1 million to make, Selim said, and from the beginning, he and the cast and crew worked to minimize their environmental impact.
Filming in Montevideo, Minnesota, population 5,346, Selim used sunlight instead of film lights whenever possible during shooting and had actors carpool to the set instead of driving on their own. He kept them at the location rather than paying to have them fly back and forth.
He also used the practice of "shooting out" each location before moving on to the next, that is, getting every necessary shot, so that transporting the entire costly enterprise from one place to another was kept to a minimum.
After the movie wrapped, the paperwork began: Selim's wife Robin, the movie's co-producer, added up "every mile driven by every vehicle, every gas receipt ... every airline ticket, every actor who traveled, every pound of film," Selim said.
The weight of the film was important if the film had to be carried by plane, since the cost of the airplane fuel and its attendant carbon emissions had to be taken into account, he said.
8,000 TONS OF CARBON
The whole report was sent to The Carbon Neutral Company in London, which calculated that "Sweet Land" emitted some 8,000 tons of carbon.
The report on their carbon emissions cost the moviemakers US$5,000, Selim said. Offsetting their emissions by investing in a reforestation project in Germany and windmills and compact fluorescent lighting in Jamaica cost another US$10,000.
The film itself has nothing to do with the environment, except that it was shot in the austere farm country of Minnesota, Selim's home state. Set in 1920, "Sweet Land" is the story of a mail-order bride and her laconic husband-to-be, struggling for acceptance in a hidebound community.
Tim Guinee stars as the bridegroom, and wholeheartedly accepted the requirements of making a carbon-neutral movie.
"I've done over 100 movies and TV shows and this is a movie I love more than anything," Guinee said in an interview. "Our most important thing was to try and make a good, beautiful movie, and this (carbon-neutral push) got done because it just felt like trying to do the right thing."
Other films have gone the carbon-neutral route, but the best known -- "An Inconvenient Truth," "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Syriana" -- have at least a tangential message about the environment or energy.
Selim said he wants to make future films this way. But what if the movie gets a bankable star -- Harrison Ford, say -- used to the energy-gobbling limos and private jets of a Hollywood production?
"I wonder what he would say if you asked him," Selim said. "If he said no, we'd probably say OK ... but I think a lot of people would say, all right, I'll give it a try."