The panel discussion was held as part of the Cairo Industry Days at the CIFF under the title "Green Filming: How can film productions be more environmentally friendly on screen and behind the camera?"
It was moderated by impact producer Samuel Rubin and featured as speakers Bassam Al-Asad, producer and founder of Greener Screen; producer Myriam Sassine; director Holly Morris; producer Micheal Kovnat and director Deia Schlosberg.
Rubin addressed the main challenges that delayed discussion of environmental concerns in the film industry and that were keeping other producers from adapting a more sustainable approach in their work.
Al-Asad explained that as founders of Greener Screen they were facing two barriers. The first is convincing filmmakers to adopt these practices. Filmmakers in Jordan and the Middle East, he said, tend to have "different priorities" and they usually postpone talks about the environment because they are still concerned with finding funding for their work.”
The second barrier, he continued, was "convincing festivals to have more discussions about sustainable filming and the environment."
"We need the platforms to educate the filmmakers and then the audience about the subject," he said.
Al-Asad noted, however, that at some point they realised that their approach was perhaps wrong. To remedy the situation, he said, they "created an easy to follow list of best practices in collaboration with Beirut DC [a nonprofit organisation that works on empowering filmmakers and audiences in the Arab world]."
He went on to say that they have been working on the data since 2014 and that within four months they created a website in Arabic and English.
"We had local, regional and translated international examples. This is when the film Costa Brava was starting. We tested the list with this film,” Al-Asad said.
Speaking in the same vein, Sassine said that the real challenge in her opinion was "convincing people who tend to belittle their own potential positive impact on such a huge environmental problem and who want to focus on other priorities."
Another challenge, she said, was showing people that sustainable filmmaking is easy to implement and doesn’t cost more.
She said that you pay more in the beginning to prepare, but that "it all evens out in the end because you can save more," adding that in Europe "you get access to certain funds if you are shooting sustainably.”
Rubin then asked Al-Asad about the Greener Screen Storytelling for Climate project and what to expect of the next generation of climate stories.
“For the past year, we’ve been focused on creating more environmental content in non-environmental films,” Al-Asad replied.
“We created the Greener Script Lab where we educate filmmakers about the climate crisis and its severe impact on humans. We then educate on psychology, the barrier to change, how to talk to the audience and what to expect from the audience," he said.
Al-Asad pointed out that they ran another Lab in collaboration with Beirut DC around the region.
"We gathered many environmentalists and filmmakers in the room. We pitch films with environmental topics that aren’t necessarily environmental films and let them make case studies about what to do on the ground. Now, we are working on the third one which will take place in Egypt, January 2023,” Al-Asad said.
Rubin then spoke about the new way of presenting environmental issues through documentaries.
He said that research from Good Energy, a non-profit story consultancy for the age of climate change, shows that "43 percent of mainstream audiences learn about climate through documentaries, 33 percent from reading newspapers and 24 percent from fictional films.”
Picking up the thread of the discussion, Kovnat said that films are never created "in a vacuum," and that the audience has to be duly considered.
"There’s a resistance in the audience to being judged and preached to. You could also have a more informational approach by not only giving stories and information about environmental issues but by drawing the audience in through telling a surprising story and making connections that they didn’t see,” he said.
Deia, for her part, said that people get most of their information through documentaries. Being bombarded everyday by news, and especially with news of new crises, they "turn to documentaries to get more detailed information on why we are facing these problems.”
Rubin then moved on to discussing sustainable production.
Addressing Al-Asad directly, he said that since Al-Asad mentioned the groundbreaking resources and opportunities for collaboration that Greener Screen created for the region, he had to point out the ways that people can work with him.
Al-Asad responded by saying that there was a website called daleel.film, which is an open resource that Beirut DC created for filmmakers in the Middle East and that incorporates three guides.
The first one is the Yellow Guide which focuses on funding films both environmental and non-environmental.
The second is the Green Guide which included the plan that was created, implemented and tested for the film Costa Brava. The Green Guide also has information on best practices and a list of vendors that can help those interested achieve these practices.
"The third one is the Blue Guide which lists the NGOs and organisations you can work with to achieve these goals,” said Al-Asad.
He pointed out that they also had the Greener Screen website which has all the information, and that they were very active on Instagram.
"We work with independent filmmakers from the region for free. We provide all our labs and training for free,” Al-Asad said.
This article was originally published in the daily Bulletin of Cairo International Film Festival (13-22 November)