How to make a green documentary film festival in Russia?

In Moscow and St. Petersburg, the green documentary film festival "EcoCup" is regularly held, which, together with like-minded people and a team of volunteers, is supervised by Anastasia Laukkanen, a graduate of MSSES for 9 years in a row. We talked to Anastasia about her journey with EcoCup from spontaneous screenings to a large festival franchise covering up to 20 cities in several CIS countries, and what role her training in MSSES played in this.

– It all started in 2009, when I went to Iceland as a volunteer, to lay a park path on an island near Reykjavik.

-A park path?

- Well, yes. I really wanted to go to Iceland, and it was such an international volunteer project, and I got there. And I liked it so much that I stayed for another volunteer project, a local film festival. It was Nordisk Panorama, a festival of Scandinavian short documentary films. I was told: "You can check the tickets." And I happily checked the tickets.

And in the meantime I stayed to see the films, of course. That's where I saw the film that started it all. It was a Finnish documentary, a home experiment where the father of the family goes on an oil diet, that is, he forbids himself anything that is either made from oil or uses petroleum products (plastic in the first place, air travel, car, etc.). He explains in detail why he decided to do this, how it is related to the state of the environment, and the further the experiment goes, the more he is interested in it. His wife openly offers to divorce by the end of the film, it`s all very funny.

I was 20 at the time, I was impressionable. Environmental cinema is very different: the same information can be presented in a monotonous and boring way, or you can tell it in such a way that you sit with your mouth open and can`t tear yourself away from the screen. And, you know, there are moments when something in the mind clicks? I was sitting there and felt like I needed to rethink everything in my life.

The director of the film was in the audience, I approached him, and we talked for a very long time. He gave me a DVD of the movie — not knowing that I would take it as permission to show it everywhere and to everyone — and told me that he was going with it to one of the first environmental film festivals, Cinemambiente, in Turin. I didn`t hesitate to go there by train with a group of Scandinavian directors!

Much later, we came up with the slogan for "EcoCup": the problem can`t be solved if you don`t talk about it. This could sum up the impressions of those two festivals: there was no talk about ecology in my information field in 2009, and here the whole city is talking about it for several days — there are a lot of directors, experts, panels, discussions, and a huge event program. It was very cool.

Now we try to bring a director or an expert to almost every show of "EcoCup", sine this is an irreplaceable experience: when you like a movie, and immediately there is a person who you can discuss it with, talk about your thoughts and impressions.

- Well, how did the idea of "EcoCup" move from Stockholm and Turin to Moscow?

.It was long and painful, if I remember how I returned to Moscow by train. There, with trembling hands, I handed my friend a DVD with "Recipes for Disaster" presented by a Finnish director and said that something urgently needed to be done about it! She suggested: let's try to find at least a few similar films. I remembered what I had seen in Turin, asked around with the directors I had met at Nordisk Panorama and Cinemambiente, and we found 5 films.

When we were asked "Why do you need it? Show at the festival?", what else could we do, but to answer: "Yeah, at the festival." That is, the idea of "EcoCup" was, as it were, given to us from the outside. We just wanted to show a few films, and we didn't go any further than that.

I returned to Moscow in October — and in February we held the first "EcoCup". We found a platform in a building under construction on Smolenskaya Street, we were given such funny cardboard chairs, 250 pieces at once, a projector and sound. We gathered them there, having no idea how many people would come to us — and in the first show, all 250 chairs were occupied.

At the same time, the first "EcoCup" was attended by volunteers, many of whom are still working in the festival team. We even brought a director from Belgium, in a fabulous way — I just came to Brussels Airlines and said: "I have a Belgian one. Can you bring him here?" And they're like, " All right, we'll bring him." It's such a beginner's luck, you know! When you are flying with burning eyes, not imagining that something may not work out for you or you may be denied something. After that case with the Belgian, this never happened again-probably because I was already more rational in solving issues.

We had such a DIY production: we made programs from recycled paper, printed them ourselves in small editions, carried them to libraries and cafes, manually made badges for participants, I made subtitles for the first shows at home. At the same time, the films were discussed with the audience by the directors themselves, a person from the Committee for Environmental Construction of Moscow, serious experts. From the very beginning, we had the concept that after each film there is a thematic discussion: you can't just show the film and disperse.

By the third festival, I realized that you can't last long on enthusiasm and uncontrolled energy. And then you need to consciously approach the organization, understand how these processes work, and structure them. The question of "What am I trying to do?" inevitably occurs. That's when I decided to go and learn it. I don't remember exactly how I found out about MSSES — I was hooked by the expression "socio-cultural design". And it's very cool when you go to study with a specific query, and you get exactly the answers that you were looking for: how do I make a festival if I want it to be more stable, debugged? Here it is all so shapeless, hot-and how can I not lose all this fervor over time?

At the time, I thought I had reached the ceiling, but this artificial ceiling is not the natural limit. Who comes to green film festivals? Those who are in the subject, right? And these films should be shown to those who have not heard about them at all. As it happened to me in Iceland. How do I find them? Even not find, but what can I do to make such films interest them? This was partly my request for training.

I have now enrolled in another master's program, in Sweden, in the cross-disciplinary specialty "Strategic Leadership in the field of sustainable development". This is my second request in terms of education. When I am interviewed about the "EcoCup" and asked "How will the festival solve environmental problems in Russia?", I say: "I`m not an ecologist, I`m the organizer of the film festival." And there is not a single professional ecologist in the "EcoCup" team. So I decided to go to a scientific master's degree program to feel more confident in this field.

By the fifth "EcoCup", we, by the way, changed the format from the "festival of ecological cinema" to the "festival of green documentary cinema". It has become easier to position ouraelves: documentary films as a genre have a much wider audience than environmental films. At least, we don`t have to answer the question "Can environmental cinema be interesting to a normal viewer?".

This year we collected our viewers` stories: what happened to them after watching our films, what changed? There were a lot of funny and sad things. One girl, for example, she is now in the festival team, and then she was not yet, watched a film about household chemicals-and she could not wash dishes with products from the store for a year. She tried to wash them with mustard, it didn't work, shewas terribly irritated, but it`s no longer possible to buy a cleaning agent on a conscious level, when some other truth has been revealed to you. Such changes occur in small steps: I can no longer use household chemicals, I can no longer buy clothes in the mass market — it is impossible to become absolutely eco-friendly in one moment. And that's good, so you don't force yourself and the people around you. Now you have your own glass bottle — and you no longer buy plastic ones: an almost imperceptible, but very important change for the better.

– If we may exaggerate a little, there is technological, industrial progress, let's call it an Absolute Evil in terms of ecology. And a small part of society that tries to resist it-by conscious consumption, in some other ways. Like the girl with mustard. But these efforts are so incommensurable — don't you feel like a Don Quixote fighting windmills?

Well, again, you can't click your fingers and say "Now you're all going to be environmentalists!" or "Now everyone should consume consciously!". The global environmental movement is growing, and the information field in Moscow, which was in 2010, when we started "EcoCup", and now are incomparable things. I think the festival has been a big part of this progress.

- Well, you came to MSSES to learn how to make a festival. Can we now, from a historical distance, say how the "Management of socio-cultural projects" has improved the organization of the festival?

There was an understanding that the festival is not when everyone burst into the room spiritualized, and something happened. This is a process that can and should be structured and directed, it has stages, different tasks at different stages, different people are involved. There are ways to solve these problems and manage these people. And you don't need to reinvent the wheel on your project.

Although I still care about certain questions: how, for example, does the volunteer team work, how to make the team more involved, why have some volunteers been with us for 8 years? In "EcoCup" there is a financial director of a construction company, a person from the music business, a journalist, a translator — people who are not related to the environment. I tried to find out this in MSSES: how does the volunteer team work, what allows people to remain part of our work for so many years? Not everyone gets the feeling that people are doing something important. Or that they give it all their soul. And then there's this motivation: "I think it's important." I think it's important to have this festival.

– What happens during the year after the festival is over? How long does the preparation period take you?

We don't have a budget to support the festival throughout the year. But "EcoCup" takes place in different cities — last year, for example, in 10, and we had a maximum of 20 cities in one year. In St. Petersburg, the screenings have been running in parallel for 5 years in a row. That is, Natasha (the festival's program director) and I work for EcoCup all year, although everyone has their own work in parallel.

In the regions, we sometimes coordinate a local team. As a rule, they find us themselves — if you type in the search, for example, "Environmental cinema in Russian", we will be the first in the search results: no one else brings these films to Russia, with rights and subtitles. And not only to Russia-before the events of 2013/14, it was Ukraine, this year we held the festival in Belarus for the first time, before that, there were Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Some screenings were held every year, some not every year. But there are more and more requests. In Belarus, "EcoCup" was held in 6 cities at once — I went to Minsk, there were full halls, very cool! I hope we'll be going back there now.

By the way, we invited the organizers from the regions to the latest festival for the first time, and we got to know each other personally. Because usually this is how it happens: they write to our e-mail, they are answered by a certain Nastya — how the festival works, where it came from, at first they have a bad understanding of that. And now in Moscow, 7 cities have gathered, where "EcoCup" takes place, we had 6 hours of strategic planning: we are trying to come up with something common that can then be implemented on the ground.

– And how is the festival organized in terms of logistics and rights?

In theory, we have no right to distribute these films: the festival is not a distributor. We buy the rights to display, 500 euros for one, for example, and, as specified in the contract, we can show it in a certain place and at a certain time. And then we hear the most painful question for us: "Where can I watch these films again?". Unfortunately, nowhere else, because distribution is completely different money, a different organization and work scheme.

We came up with such a move: I agree on a certain number of shows within "EcoCup", regardless of the number of cities — and bargain like a Turkish woman, so that it comes out cheap. But the problem is that we don't initially know how many cities will participate. It`s not difficult to agree on, say, 20 cities — but what if there are not 20 of them?

Some films are given to us either for free or for a small amount of money. But there are very few of them: the better the film, the more expensive it is. Now prices have increased, to an average of 1,000 euros per impression.

I go to these film festivals, I`m often invited to be a member of the jury. This is very cool, because when you come to the festival, you have the opportunity to meet with the directors and producers of these films.

It also happens that they turn themselves — this year 2 films found us in this way. We are opening a call for entries, but it is designed mainly for Russian films. Well, since "EcoCup" has been going on for 9 years, many of the directors we have shown are shooting their second or even third film.

– If we consider the festival as a commercial format: here is the concept of a franchise, where the organizational structure is immediately set, everything is painted as if by notes, right down to the visual elements, and it wanders from city to city.

That's what we're trying to do, yes. But there are different situations in cities: somewhere the local administration works with us, somewhere a volunteer, somewhere, as in Novosibirsk, a scientific festival is already being held, and we are making a film program for them. Basically, we ask for money to pay for the rights, translation of subtitles and some organizational things.

Plus, we constantly participate in various eco-events in Moscow. This is mainly what Natasha does — I`m responsible for international activities, she`s responsible for local ones, I`m responsible for films, and Natasha is responsible for experts.

– Do you earn money at the festival?

From what is happening in Europe and America, the budget of local green film festivals isvery often half replenished from the city budget. It`s important for the city to have an environmental film festival. At some festivals, there is an opportunity to meet with distributors from television, the opportunity to go to other distribution channels.

"EcoCup" is the only Russian festival among the festivals of green documentary films. There are about 40 festivals from different countries, none of them earn money.

– And what is the green cinema that you have been showing for 9 years? These are mostly documentaries, fiction films?

There are no feature films. Just green documentary films.

Now the winner of our festival is "Yasuni Man": it was shot by an American biologist, he`s not a filmmaker, but the film is stunningly beautiful!

Or a very good Russian film "Life with Bacteria", about microbiologists from Moscow State University, shot by two philosophers by education. We are looking for quality documentaries. There is such a stereotype that environmental cinema is boring, that it is for a very special audience, that it is such a National Geographic about cheetahs. And each of our programs is an attempt to break this stereotype. For example, "Virunga" is a real documentary thriller: with tanks, helicopters, murders, orangutans. You watch it and you don't believe it's a documentary. I have to remind myself that it was filmed with a hidden camera, and it's happening in the Congo right now.

These are almost feature films, they are so beautifully made. For me, it is important to find such a film, returning to the question of how to hook the audience, which is not in the topic. My husband's brother hates environmentalists! Which is a little sad, since I'm the only ecologist in his life. Well, he thinks that they are boring, they don`t take packages in the supermarket, etc. There are a lot of such people. But a friend can bring them to us — and that`s the reason we`ve started everything! Because they think they're going to the most boring movie of their lives, and then they come out with square eyes and say, "This movie should be shown everywhere!"

This year, we tried what we now call a parallel programfor the first time. This is when the events of "Eochashka" are held without reference to film screenings. We are trying to find a new format: ok, you have seen the film — and then? We only held a couple of such events: I brought my master's degree teacher to a participatory seminar on how sustainable development is taught in Sweden. All our directors and producers gave lectures at the Moscow School of New Cinema this year. Then we held a meeting in the Work in progress format, where the directors showed pieces from their current projects and told us what and how they are planning to shoot in the end. We arranged a meeting with young scientists of the "Science in the Corners": scientists were sitting in a room around the perimeter, you could talk to each of them for 20 minutes, as if on a quick date.

The idea is very simple: The green film festival has, by and large, two themes — cinema and ecology. Films can't change the world — people change the world. But films are just what affect people, on an emotional and intellectual level. This is an alternative source of information: yesterday you didn't hear anything about the landfills around Moscow, and today you`ve watched a whole film about it and talked to a person who professionally deals with the problem. It makes it easier to start talking about it with each other.

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