VIFF Sustainable Production Forum

by Ryan Uytdewilligen


When you marvel at the scope of the latest popcorn movie, a few occasional questions such as “how did they ever do that?” might arise. That’s most likely what the filmmakers wanted you to think.


But few moviegoers actually consider or investigate the nitty-gritty reality of how much goes into creating a scene, whether it’s faking weather conditions or carving realistic worlds with the hands of cinema’s finest set builders.


The answer is a lot: a lot of money and a heck of a lot of material to make it so. If a scene requires rain, water is often pumped through rain towers to create that illusion. Structures large and small are often constructed for one day of shooting and then the materials tossed away like it was never so.


Then there’s the world you can’t see on screen: the endless parade of trailers and trucks filled with makeup and scripts to the pop up restaurants that feed the army of hungry crew. It takes a village and then some to make a movie.


sustainable film production film set


While the longtime “dirty secret” of environmentally outspoken Hollywood is perhaps its all-consuming—and often wasteful—nature, the last decade has seen the film business going green.


Vancouver leads the industry with a monumental partnership between the Green Spark Group and Creative BC.


The launch of the Reel Green initiative back in 2006 led to conversations about recycling and conservation and eventually its debut at the Vancouver International Film Festival through a forum—the first of its kind. Ideas to inspire studios and movie makers to leave smaller ecological footprints were brought forth in a ground breaking discussion which became an anticipated composite of the yearly event. Coveted speakers have included Vancouver’s own Mayor Gregor Robertson and sustainable executives of major studios from across the globe.


reel green initiative sustainable film production


While talk may be cheap, actions have spoken louder than words beyond the VIFF Sustainable Production Forum; actual green initiatives have become common practice across the city and even across the international film industry.


Beginning with a simple bottle recycling system, today you can find a comprehensive green method for paper, electronic, toner, paint, wood, and polystyrene disposal. LED lighting has become more commonplace on sets while regulations on vehicle idling, vehicle size, and even overall usage has positively changed how projects are shot. Small victories like healthier green options for food have even made an impact. It’s these small victories that really add up and show the rest of the world Vancouver is a trendsetter that truly cares for its environment.


VIFF has always been one to tackle environmental issues, evident by its green selection of documentaries every year. Films like Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World (2015) have made their debut there, celebrating British Columbia’s beauty and nature, while worldwide docs about the Amazon Rainforest depletion (2016’s When Two Worlds Collide) have opened up conversation.


viff 2015 haida gwaii on the edge of the world documentary


This year, Mark Kitchell’s Evolution of Organic explores the history of food growth and consumption. Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy celebrates the beautiful relationship of nature and art. The Valley of Wolves and Mountain celebrate the natural world like a third party observer. And various narrative works like Matthew Taylor Blais’ Forest Movie explores the theme of  human/environmental relationships.


viff 2017 leaning into the wind andy goldsworthy documentary


This year’s Vancouver International Film Festival runs September 28th to October 13th, with the Sustainable Production Forum entitled “Action Now” running October 4th from 9AM to 5PM. The forum is open to the public. Tickets are available on the website at or at any of the local booths and theatres where tickets are sold.


Broken down into five sessions, an array of speakers and guests have been selected to give various perspectives on new ideas to get the film industry to go as green as it can:


Mike Slavich, Director of Sustainability at Warner Bros, will helm one of the day’s sessions to discuss how major movie studios are contributing.


UBC Professor Garvin Eddy will bring together students and teachers to address environmental practices taught in film schools.


And Kenneth Ebie, Executive Director of External Affairs at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment, and Amy Lemisch, Executive Director at the California Film Commission will discuss an overview of current policies, practices, and advancements. Of course, the overlying theme of all sessions and talks will be taking environmental action now.


viff 2017 sustainable production forum


So if you’re a concerned moviegoer, rest assured Vancouver is doing its part to make sure cinema is constantly evolving to keep up with changing times. Environmental practices have constantly evolved thanks to the Real Green initiative and open discussions and presentations like the VIFF Sustainable Production Forum.


If you’re a moviemaker, it is up to you to put these practices in effect and consistently step up to save the planet. No matter what budget or size of production, your impact makes a difference—your films and your actions are the future. So consider joining the forum today and support independent world cinema by attending VIFF throughout the coming festival season.




Looking for more festivals to attend? Read 4 Film Festivals to Check Out in Vancouver!

If you’re a filmmaker looking to enter the festival circuit, we’ve got Film Festival Tips for New Filmmakers like you! 

Or if you’re the cynical type who believes big blockbuster franchises and remakes are all Hollywood wants, maybe our Calling All Screenwriters: Hollywood is Going to Be in Desperate Need of Original Scripts article will change your mind.


InFocus blogger Ryan Uytdewilligen was born in Lethbridge Alberta and is trained in both  journalism and writing for film and TV. He has published two books—the first a nonfiction film history called 101 Most Influential Coming of Age Movies and the second a YA fiction novel called Tractor. He currently has a second non-fiction work underway and several feature films in development.