The thing about producing a film set in an eco-utopia is it’s a great excuse to build one. Artist and activist Irene Cortes has set out to build an ecologically beneficially film production for her sci-fi flick, Nowhere Here Now.
In a way, the film is more of a cover; what Cortes is really after is way to provide renewable energy to a small village in the Philippines, and use the project as a model to rethink traditional film production as a way to benefit ecology.
She calls the new medium a “building film,” and is crowdfunding $160,000 to move forward with the set. The film set will function like a small-scale renewable solar energy power plant and micro-grid, that can generate 50 kilowatts of clean energy to power up to 200 households in the little community called Sta . The idea is to generate power close to where it's consumed, harvesting and storing solar energy and sending it out through the mini-grid.
The set is designed to look both futuristic and natural, inspired by the Bahay Kubo, a traditional Filipino hut, and Buckminister Fuller's geodesic dome.
The Fuller Dome is known to be one of the most energy-efficient atmospheres humans can live in. Air and energy can circulate freely, so heating and cooling happen naturally. In 1960 Fuller even proposed building a two-mile geodesic dome that would span Midtown Manhattan from 21st to 64th Streets, so as to reduce cooling and heating costs—1960s New York was decidedly more interested in saving money than saving the planet.
"The solar array nested with the domes are embedded within the design, creating functioning shade and structural support," Cortes told me in an email. "There will easily be over 200 panels involved. We are interested in incorporating solar panels as a material to build with."
The ecological utopia where Nowhere Here Now will take place is called TRON-O, which Cortes described as "an assemblage of so many Sci-Fi names and immediately recognized as a place (re: TRON) from another future."
The story follows a mother whose child mysteriously disappears. In her journey to find her daughter, she discovers the root of the people of TRON-O’s suffering, a la Neverending Story. It'll be a trilogy, the second told from the little girl’s perspective and third from a cosmic perspective.
Cortes got the idea to tackle climate change with filmmaking from hearing horror stories about the production of Apocalypse Now, which all but obliterated the Philippine village where it was shot. The crew used real dynamite to blow up forests, built new roads through the village, and effectively turned the town into a brothel.
Apocalypse Now is in no way an isolated incident: The film industry is a veritable environmental nightmare. Major productions typically use a colossal amount of energy and produce an equally colossal amount of waste and pollution. A few years ago a University of California study found that in Los Angeles, the film industry was responsible for more air pollution than airplane manufacturing, clothing, the hotel business, and every other industry other than fuel refining.
Yet even Hollywood isn't immune to the greening of society, and an eco-friendly filmmaking movement is emerging. There are environmental film festivals and awards for the most sustainable productions. Cortes wants to go even further, hoping to not just mitigate the environmental damage of producing a film, but reverse it.
"I'm looking to explore the affects of an audience when they are aware of what happens outside of the frame. The power of cinema had people running out of the theatres when they first saw that train coming! How do we use that energy to confront our ecological crisis?" said Cortes."I believe the movie industry can help." A utopian idea indeed.