Film production within Flanders, in the northern part of Belgium, is taking on sustainability in a major way. And for this, we have Siebe Dumon to thank. Siebe got her start in the industry, as a producer in TV production. She is someone who knows what it means to deliver quality content with tight deadlines. And, she knows how to do all of this on a strict budget. In her current role at the regionally based Flanders Audio-Visual Fund (VAF), Siebe has been able to draw on this production experience, for her most recent and influential pursuit: to green the industry. The fruits of her labor? E-Mission; a regional film fund initiative that rewards greener thinking productions with… financing. If it sounds cutting edge, that’s because it is.

Siebe is not only the current manager of ‘E-Mission’, but the brains behind the initiative as well. In transitioning from her role as TV producer to manager with the VAF, Siebe found herself compelled to ask the following question beginning as early as 2011: what can the film sector do to work in a more sustainable way?

She confesses that her initial curiosity on the subject stemmed from private interests.  She also confesses however, that it was the pursuit of these interests within a formal and professional context, that she has been able to find more effective resolution.

Taking the Green Plunge

To dive into the world of greener filmmaking, Siebe needed to do some background research. She knew that there were other green trailblazers in the film industry -like Nic Balthazar- and she knew that achieving carbon neutrality within media production was not just ‘a crazy idea’ but, a tangible process. So, she began her investigation of green filmmaking by way of asking a Nic Balthazar (a Belgian filmmaker who had already been making green ripples with his carbon neutral films), to produce a tangible a case study. She needed a working and effective real world example, from which she could then depart her greener work with the VAF.  But, not so fast… though Siebe was able to draw some industry attention to the subject via the case study, there was little meaningful response to it in the end.

It was at this point, that Siebe went back to the drawing board. What became frustratingly clear to Siebe, from the underwhelming response to her contracted case study, was that few people were interested in talking about things that concerned the environment. This realization is responsible for sparking a drastic shift in Siebe’s approach; the key was in linking the environment, to the finances. For Siebe’s ambitious work, this meant saying to filmmakers: ” you won’t get the money, if you don’t film in a more sustainable way”. For the VAF, this guiding principle became the greener way forward.

The next steps included input from eco consultants, in the brainstorming process of asking: how can we produce in a more sustainable way? how can we develop the tangible tools that are needed for the industry? what are the most polluting aspects of the industry, and how can we curb their wastes? It was during this process that the VAF’s E-Mission was able to develop the methodology, tools and checklists that it initially offered to aid productions. Beginning in 2011 these aids were accessible to productions via an E-Handbook. One of the tools generated at this time was a carbon calculator; produced in conjunction with the eco-consultants at Zero Emission Solutions (ZES), and designed to suit the specifications of the Flanders Region.

Starting in September of 2013 however, the E-Mission program has been more actively encouraging VAF productions to produce sustainably, through their newly applied ‘green’ production stipulations.

So how exactly does ‘E-Mission’ work, and …what about the finances?

The VAF is the first film commission to tie the approval of funds to the environmental engagement of a production. Their E-Mission initiative requires every production applying for funding via the VAF to submit a carbon footprint for their project. Productions receiving production support from the VAF receive it in installments. The E-Mission program then regulates green production progress, in conjunction with the timeline of these installments. For example, to get the final installment (10%) of it’s financial support, a production is required to first submit a final sustainability report.

Though this may sound like an intimidating prospect to production professionals, Siebe assures us that it’s actually an easy and very co-productive process to work with E-Mission, “the last thing we want to do, is scare people off”, she says. All of the necessary aids, tools, and checklists can be easily downloaded from the VAF’s website. They are easy to fill, and also go in line with the budgetary paper work that should already exist.

How did the initial implementation of ‘E-Mission’ in 2013, play out?

Though there were some initial concerns that productions would not always willingly co-operate with the newly applied stipulations, E-Mission has evolved greatly over the past two years, and is considered a great success.

At first, Siebe found that her own personal resilience was key to pursuing the project. She had to convince those above her at the VAF that she was able to take on the new initiative within the pre-existing work schedule, and she had plenty of convincing to do in order to ‘green light’ the project. But, with patience and persistence, Siebe was essentially able to take the time to explain the rationale and benefits behind E-Mission.

Initial resistance quickly gave way to enthusiasm and a willingness to adapt to change – a pattern of behavior that Siebe identifies on E-Mission’s related sets as well. It is as soon as benefits ( whether financial or ethical) of the new approach are perceived, that the associated attitudes generally become more open to change.

The producers who have worked with E-Mission and who now understand the benefits associated with sustainable filmmaking have become an important part of the industry’s greening pull. According to Siebe, these are the people who can help other professionals to ‘come around’, they are the ones who can say: hey, green filmmaking can be more expensive but it’s not always that way. For example, just look at the savings you can make on gas in transportation by thinking more efficiently!

2014 marked the second year of E-Mission’s active engagement with VAF films, and Siebe has noticed some big shifts coming from the productions. Some have begun to input lines for sustainability costs in their budget, and some have even begun to hire green production managers on their own. Now that sustainability has established itself within the industry, transition seems to be going much more smoothly.

In retrospect, Siebe acknowledges that one of the unique strengths of the VAF’s approach seems to be the time frames through which E-Mission’s requirements are to be met. Because E-Mission’s stipulations are tied to funding schedules, filmmakers must embrace the greener approach in a timely manner, and so they are quick to adapt.

The Bigger ‘Green Picture’ Picture: from neighboring industries to neighboring countries

Though the Flemish film industry’s 12 film annual output can seem relatively small, the influential reach of E-Mission’s cutting edge approach is rather large.

E-Mission’s impact is not exclusive to the production industry within Flanders. Its presence has been able to effect neighbouring industries as well. One of the bigger points of pride for E-Mission is it’s ability to negotiate on a higher level with suppliers from other industries. For example, E-Mission has initiated and settled long-term user contracts with hybrid vehicle suppliers. This essentially propels further positive change into both the transport industry, and film production industry simultaneously.

As a regional film body, the VAF is a also proud member of the EU’s CineRegio assembly- CineRegio is a collective of 43 regionally base film funds throughout Europe and includes presence from regional funds within Sweden, Norway, the UK, Italy, & France . The work of E-Mission is then able to fit into a much greater context.

Through this platform, E-Mission contributes it’s methodology as well as working case studies on sustainability, for greater international review. At the Cannes Film Festival in May of this year, CineRegio released an extensive and ground breaking report entitled Sustainability In Vision. The study takes a comparative look at sustainable production practice as it is being played out on the regional level, and the VAF was one of the most prominent contributors in providing a great amount of observable case studies. Read the executive summary of that report here.

The VAF readily had a wealth of material to contribute to the report, as it has compiled database which includes the cumulative calculations and outcomes from each film that E-Mission works with. Each production working with E-Mission then,also contributes to deepening this pool of available information.

So, what does Siebe see as the future of Green Filmmaking?

Siebe sees the next generation of filmmakers as being in very strong position to pursue sustainable change. These people will not have to work against old methods, as they are in a position to simply adopt the new and more relevant ways forward for production. Siebe encourages this next generation of filmmakers to take advantage of the fact that they can work in more sustainable ways from the beginning of their careers. Doing so, in her eyes, can only work in favor of advancing their own professional recognition and success.

Siebe also emphasizes the value that sharing information and best practice can have, as she believes that a sharing of current knowledge will move us all forward. As a result of such an exchange, Siebe looks forward to the possibility of Europe coming into it’s own method of international standardization for green production. At the moment, though there are many effective national platforms for green filmmaking, there are no methodologies that work between or across different European countries.

In the meantime, the VAF will continue to expand it’s E-Mission program, while changing green production requirements to suit their changing industry landscape.

Siebe’s E-Mission platform with the VAF has already set the green filmmaking bar incredibly high, in tying financial support to the regulation of green production progress. We can’t wait to see how high they will jump next.

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