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CANNES 2023 Marché du Film

At Cannes, Screens of Tomorrow launches its English-language sustainability guide

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- CANNES 2023: The presentation of the guide was accompanied by a talk by a panel of experts, discussing their work creating powerful “cli-fi” (climate fiction) narratives

At Cannes, Screens of Tomorrow launches its English-language sustainability guide
l-r: Julie de Valmont, Lucy Stone, Carole Scotta, Jack Cooper Stimpson, Julie-Jeanne Régnault and Caroline de Chantérac during the panel

On 18 May, the Marché du Film’s Palais Stage hosted an impACT panel titled “Creating More Sustainable and Inclusive Fictional Narratives, a Collective Work from Writing to Broadcasting”. The talk was moderated by Screens of Tomorrow members Caroline de Chantérac, head of Culture Programmes at Sparknews (see the interview); and Julie de Valmont, Production Partnerships project manager at Get the Moon. The event saw the participation of Julie-Jeanne Régnault (EFAD’s secretary general), Carole Scotta (CEO, producer and distributor at Haut et Court), Lucy Stone (director of Climate Spring) and writer-director Jack Cooper Stimpson.

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In her opening remarks, de Valmont highlighted how climate change doesn’t necessarily need to be the central topic of a film, but it can be “in the background” and still make an impact on the audience. She made mention of particular films like Triangle of Sadness [+see also:
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as positive examples that have the potential to promote “new eco-responsible behaviours”. The power of fiction narratives focusing on climate change – more recently known as “cli-fi” (climate fiction) – is not something new, however. A study dating back to 2004, for example, found that 83% of the people who watched The Day After Tomorrow considered taking action and adopting eco-friendly behaviours like buying fuel-efficient cars. “It’s true that these films can have an impact, and celebrities are taking part in this movement by provoking and changing narratives,” de Valmont added.

The floor was then given to Stone, who argued that we are now “way beyond” the point of educating the audience and that “most people are in a collective state of fear paralysis”. However, paralysis prompts retreat, which is “a natural response” to how overwhelming this emergency may feel. Cli-fi, however, has the power to influence behaviour and social norms, as science affects our brain chemistry differently than factual or documentary, reaching “parts” that these cannot stimulate. It suspends our disbelief and lets us enter another space, she argued, highlighting how this is what we need now to encourage people to take action and escape paranoia.

Later, Cooper Stimpson spoke about Extinction, his comedy satirical short starring Emma Thompson. When asked why he chose to work on comedy, he said: “To put it simply, if you don’t laugh, you cry. We’re in such a terrible situation.” The writer-director stressed how comedies are still amazing tools to scrutinise the way we live. Many of the works he writes and develops are comedies that have something to do with acts of protest and activism, which he defined as “a funny space to work with”. He uses this backdrop to tell the stories of “ordinary people trying to do extraordinary things in order to try to save the planet”.

In her contribution, Scotta spoke about the concern of producing fewer, but more impactful, stories: “[A film] needs to be impactful. As a producer, I need to feel right about it even if we work with sustainable ways of shooting. We need to face this. There’s a price to pay for it, and that price is being responsible, being political. It doesn’t have to be a big subject, because it can be in many ways about characters making their decisions – about what they eat, for example. It’s about things that can be infused [even] in very small stories.”

Regnault stressed EFAD’s efforts to adhere to eco-friendly practices, but also referred to gender equality and inclusion, with the body members acting as “agents for change”, and stimulating the debate at both the national and the European level. She added how the MEDIA programme is demanding that all projects write up a page focusing on their diversity and sustainability strategies. Even though it’s still a simple declaration of intent, it is a good occasion for producers and creators to start asking themselves questions. She also underscored how some countries like France and Germany are already making concrete efforts to limit their carbon footprint, kicking off and implementing their own certification systems. Finally, she touched upon the role of eco-consultants, who are not there to affect the creative process, but may ask creators a range of questions so that they can make informed decisions (for instance, “Do you really need to go to Morocco to film an explosion in a disco?”).

Stone and Cooper Stimpson agreed on the fact that not many creators are actively working on cli-fi, which offers opportunities, but it can also be “alienating” when pitching projects. In particular, Stone underlined how Climate Spring is coming to the rescue of cli-fi creators like Cooper Stimpson by providing financial support at an early stage, so that projects can be honed in order to be “commercially viable”, and with the right “climate message lens” applied. Together with producers, they help package the projects, and bring them to the attention of distributors and commissioners.

In the last part of the talk, de Chantérac unveiled the new English-language edition of the Screens of Tomorrow guide, defined as a “co-constructed tool” which includes some questionnaires and a resource centre which aim to promote sustainability and inclusion without hindering creativity. The guide is published in three versions: the first is aimed at writers, the second at producers and directors, and the third at distributors and broadcasters. To find out more, please click here.

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