Véronique Le Bris: “Nothing echoes a cause more than cinema”
In the name of the earth, Goliath, Don’t Look Up, the Snow Panther, Okja, Tomorrow… Whether documentary or fiction, in theaters or on platforms, cinema that talks about ecology, nature, biodiversity is a hit. At the end of 2022, the immense success of Avatar – The Way of the Water by James Cameron is a new illustration of this: the seventh art reflects the concerns of its time as much as it shapes the imagination. . Because he touches the masses, he has become, in fact, one of the best ambassadors of the environmental cause. The film critic Véronique Le Bris made a book of it questioning its representation on the big screen: 100 great films that are good for the planet (Grun). Maintenance.
What is a good film for the planet?
With this book, I wanted to ask two questions: how to raise awareness and is cinema a good way to do this? Now, more and more films address the ecological theme. And over the decades, the discourse has evolved significantly. For a long time, cinema first showed the relationship to the world, to nature, to diversity, to territories never seen before. This is what Cousteau did, with an intrusive, violent and destructive method for nature. Then, the message became catastrophic. I attribute this shift to World War II, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It is at this time that we realize that we can destroy what we have built, while judging only the consequences on man. When it was broadcast worldwide in the 1950s and 1960s, Japanese cinema echoed it, before the United States seized on it, those who have the know-how of special effects.
They want to save the world. Subsequently, the speech became more positive: “We are running to our loss but we can still react. “From the 1970s, the message is more voluntary but is not fully accepted, there is a phenomenon of backlash (backlash – Editor’s note). It was not until the 2000s that this discourse became more frequent, including outside of American cinema.
The most glaring example is the documentary Tomorrow, by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent, which shows that cinema is a great tool for raising awareness. Result: more than a million entries and a Caesar. Nothing speaks to a cause more than cinema.
Does this cinema criticize liberalism and capitalism or does it ignore the connection with the climate crisis?
This is the latest development. For a long time, the cinema showed that if some destroyed the planet, it was for a collective profit. However, it is well understood today that it is for the profit of a few.
This criticism is perhaps more present in the documentary than in the fiction. In the World according to Monsanto, Marie-Monique Robin explains very well how agriculture was devastated by a society. But fiction also seizes on it: we can cite Goliath, by Frederic Tellier; Red, by Farid Bentoumi; or In the name of the earth, by Edouard Bergeon.
You cite many animated films in your book. Do they have a greater role to play in educating about the environmental challenge because they are also aimed at children?
Today, all the animated films that come out talk about ecology. However, I have the impression that they serve to rid ourselves of guilt: “We are going to educate young people without changing our behavior. But we also know that when parents take their children to see these films, they also get the message. It is therefore a very effective means of disseminating the discourse to the masses, who only go to the cinema to see these films. And there are wonderful examples like Wall-e.
Is there a difference in treatment of ecology in cinema between France and the United States?
In the United States, there are two types of films. On the one hand, disaster films like the day after, by Roland Emmerich. On the other, films that highlight personalities who are right against everyone, like Erin Brockovich, alone against allby Steven Soderbergh, or Dark Waters, by Todd Haynes. In France, the discourse is more general, universal: “Look how beautiful it is and make sure it doesn’t disappear. « . We also talk a lot about the defense of the land, the peasants, the loss of an Eden.
What happened a year ago around Don’t Look Up, a film that had a direct impact on many political speeches?
It’s typically the right idea, released at the right time with the Covid and on a platform (Netflix – Ed). Don’t Look Up does not speak directly about ecology but everyone understood that in fact, yes. It is one of those films that have left their mark on people. When I discuss in the signing sessions, I am quoted three other American films, three films of rocking in awareness: the day after, An inconvenient truth – the Al Gore documentary – and Avatar. For France, it is undeniably Tomorrow.
Cinema is a very polluting art: in 2020, 1.7 million tonnes of CO2 were released by cinematographic activity. Does the industry integrate the climate issue into its practices?
It depends on the sectors. Concerning transport, consideration remains marginal. There is always this tradition of festivals and this habit of going to film on the other side of the world. On the other hand, initiatives exist concerning the production of sets. A collective has been created to recycle them and avoid building everything each time. Just as a company, Secoya, tries to green the controls, by abandoning industrial food or by preferring water canisters rather than bottles. The transition is underway but it is happening slowly: money remains a brake because it costs more.
The 5% collective came together around the Les Arcs festival, supported by activist Camille Étienne, to ask the cinema to commit to reducing emissions. Do you think that the cinema is mature enough for this initiative to federate?
Before the pandemic, they had started a program of reflection on ecology, with people from all over Europe. That’s where I got the idea for the book. Reflection that they continue today with this collective. There is an awareness but it is an illusion to believe that cinema is avant-garde. It follows the evolutions of the society. Pathé and Gaumont seem relatively unconcerned by the subject. It will start with the little ones and then spread. But do we have time to wait?