Making movies, not mess: Three sustainably produced films to watch

With the environmental impact of Amazon Studios’ The Rings of Power having come under scrutiny, here are some sustainably produced films you could watch instead.

Sustainable Film Cover Photo 2
Much like the original Lord of the Rings film trilogy, Amazon Studios' The Rings of Power draws much strength from New Zealand's acclaimed natural landscapes. However, it has recently been criticised for its wasteful and environmentally damaging practices. Image: Ben Rothstein/Amazon Studios.

With nearly US$465 million spent on the opening season alone, Amazon Studios’ The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power may have been one of the most expensive television series ever produced. However, media reports suggest that the stunning set pieces may have come at great environmental cost. 

In internal correspondence leaked to the press, the Rings of Power‘s sustainability team said that the first season of the show generated 14,387 tonnes of carbon dioxide – or more than five times of what a big-budget “blockbuster” film would typically generate, based on estimates provided by the British Film Institute (BFI). Further emails from three waste disposal vendors revealed that the production sent 14,000 cubic metres of waste to the landfill – enough to fill six Olympic-size swimming pools. 

There were some green initiatives – the crew recycled paper and batteries, installed electric vehicle charging stations and ate some vegetarian meals, as British newspaper The Guardian reported. However, these efforts seem dwarfed by the emissions and waste generated by the production process. Amazon said its filming met or exceeded industry standards.

In the spirit of sustainability, here are three sustainably produced films you can watch over the holidays instead: 

1. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) 

While Hollywood blockbusters usually entail huge emissions and waste footprints, their big budget also allows them to adopt more sustainable production practices, as in the case of Sony Pictures’ The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Jamie Foxx. 

The crew had a manager who oversaw, enforced and documented sustainable practices on set, which enabled them to save 193,000 disposable plastic water bottles, donate or reuse 49.7 tonnes of materials and divert more than 52 per cent of their waste from landfills. These efforts not only trimmed US$400,000 from their production costs, but also won them the Environmental Media Association’s Green Seal award in 2014. 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 can be viewed on Netflix, DVD or Blu-ray. 

2. Bait (2019)

Hailed by many film critics as a modern masterpiece, Bait explores the decline and gentrification of British seaside towns through the rising tensions between a struggling fishing community and tourists who increasingly threaten the town’s authentic character and traditional ways of life. 

Apart from its unusual subject matter, the film’s aesthetic qualities also stand out. Bait was shot with a 16mm silent film camera in director Mark Jenkins’ native Cornwall. Jenkins then developed the film himself at home and recorded the audio later, a process which gives the movie its otherworldly quality and emphasises the main character’s increasing alienation from his town.

Though Bait has not been explicitly lauded for its sustainable production, it has followed a few key practices which sustainable film experts say greatly reduce the environmental footprint of filmmaking, such as keeping shoots local, simplifying filming setups and minimising cast and crew size.

In an interview with Eco-Business, Birgit Heidsiek, head of Germany-based sustainable media platform Green Film Shooting said, “The most sustainable film is one which has not been produced. But it’s possible to produce films in a more eco-friendly way and sometimes low-budget productions have done it without even knowing it, like shooting in nearby locations, getting actors to put on their own clothes or using the available light [in the day].” 

Bait is available on Apple TV, BFI Player, DVD and Blu-ray.

3. Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui or Romance in Chandigarh (2021)

Progressive and sustainable film production is not an exclusively Western development, with Bollywood sets making major strides in both areas as well. Directed by Abhishek Kapoor and produced by T-Series in conjunction with Guy in the Sky Pictures, Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui follows Manu (Ayushmann Khurrana), a bodybuilder, who struggles and eventually overcomes his gender biases to love Maanvi (Vaani Kapoor), his trans woman partner. 

The film’s sustainability effort was led by Skrap, an Indian environmental sustainability firm that managed to divert 17 tonnes (or 95 per cent) of the film’s waste material from landfills by providing water dispensers and compostable plates, minimising food waste and donating leftover food to needy communities through organisations such as Feeding India and Robinhood Army.

In fact, feeding actors and production crew is one of the highest waste-producing areas in Bollywood filmmaking, according to Janjri Jasani, deputy director of the Mumbai-based non-profit Centre for Environmental Research and Education (CERE).

“I think catering has a huge impact [on the environment] because there’s so much packaged food involved and so much food wastage. Apart from diesel generators, transportation and all the [costumes], catering services is probably where the biggest impact still is,” she explained in an interview with Eco-Business. 

Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is available on Netflix. 

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