Schools Training

The Lorax Raises Questions About Teaching of Sustainability in Film Schools

12 MAR 2012
Career Path : Arts and Entertainment

The new film adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic, The Lorax, has stirred up a lot of controversy, inciting debate amongst graduates of film schools and geography departments alike. One of the reasons: the makers of the film have partnered with a car company to promote a new “efficient” SUV. To some this seems incompatible with the film’s environmental message, which urges children to value nature over profit, as well as with its claim – hidden deep within its credits – to be a sustainably produced film.

But can anyone really say what a sustainable film is? Is this topic even taught in film schools? In Canada, after all, the word “sustainable,” as applied to film production, is still more likely to mean a strong film industry, capable of competing on the global market.

Perhaps there is no real consensus yet on what sustainability means for this industry – in film schools in Canada and abroad.

Sustainability may not be taught in film schools, but the practice is taking root…

There are more and more examples of sustainable film production – a topic not yet taught in most film schools – in Canada and abroad.

In 2008, Vancouver Film Studios (VFS) went carbon neutral.

In 2011, the UK’s standards body BSI released a standard for sustainable films. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, starring Robert Downey Jr., was one of the first productions to adhere to the standard. As such, the production team tried to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the making of the film and to raise awareness about sustainable choices amongst the cast and crew, none of whom were likely to have studied this in film schools.

For Sherlock Holmes II, the decision to go sustainable affected the production in some surprising ways, notably, the crew had to take special care when filming at a heritage railway site not to disrupt commuters using a nearby active rail route. This kind of anecdote suggests one reason why sustainable production may not be on the curriculum in most film schools: sustainable production practices may currently primarily be a question of flexibility: adapting on a case-by-case basis.

As the number of sustainable productions increases, so will the amount of information available to film schools. In Canada, Ottawa’s TerraChoice Environmental helped verify the environmental practices employed on the set of the American film, Away We Go, starring Maya Rudolph of Saturday Night Live fame. Based on this assessment, which is available online, some topics that we may can expect to see on the curriculum of film schools in the future are:

  • using reusable flatware
  • using reusable water bottles on set
  • using Forest Stewardship Council certified wood on set
  • choosing locations to minimize transportation needs
  • renting hybrid cars, compact cars
  • using film stock with fewer chemicals
  • serving organic, local food
  • composting waste
  • reducing noise pollution

Once these topics are on the curriculum of film schools in Canada, it would be interesting to return to the case of The Lorax as an example of how choice of partnerships is an important aspect of sustainability, as is public perception.