When it was announced a year ago that the 2023 UK Cinema Association’s annual conference would focus on sustainability there must have been some subtly raised British eyebrows. Cinemas had only just re-opened in the United Kingdom, but “Top Gun Maverick” and “Avatar: the Way of Water” were still months away from re-affirming audiences’ love for the big screen. Was this the right time to worry about saving the planet, when cinema itself was freshly off life-support in the A&E (that’s the emergency room in Blighty hospitals), many were probably asking themselves?
It is not that sustainability has not been a topic for the cinema industry. We all know about the plague of plastic straws and we have previously heard from The Depot cinema in Lewes about the solar panels on their roof and sustainably sourced snacks. There was also the important work that had been done for many years already by the UNIC Retail Group looking at the Circular Economy, working with the UKCA and its members. Half-way through the year, when Putin’s energy war heated up and threatened to freeze and ruin cinemas, there seemed to be a subtle shift towards such a two-day event focusing on energy and related savings issues. In the end, it was an out-and-out double day pure focus on sustainability, of which energy formed a small if important part.
Taking place 21 and 22 March in London, UKCACON 2023 wasn’t just ABOUT sustainability, but tried its best to BE sustainable as well. No more tote bags (“Our assumption is that this is very few people’s first rodeo, and that we ALL have an endless supply of branded tote bags at home,” the pre-show email semi-snarked), lanyards and delegate badges to be returned and re-used, drinks were only served in reusable cups, delegate handbook printed on recycled paper and so on. The conference didn’t go as far as The Only Way is Up conference a few years back that gave delegates an option between Vegetarian and Vegan food, but at least the veggie options were as tasty as the meat ones.
It would be unfair to try to summarise the whole two days in this Editorial. Rather, Celluloid Junkie will bring you stories, reports, interviews and coverage of the people, presentations and topics that made it such a worthwhile two days. Thanks to our colleague Helen Budge we have already been covering this issue with our CJ Green series and you will be seeing plenty more “green shoots” from this. What we can say is that the organisers (you know who you are) did a terrific job and managed to make the subject interesting, relevant and important. There were a wide variety of angles and it never felt that it was repeating itself or in risk of becoming preachy. The response from the audience was positive and there were no grumblings during the breaks, but a continued discussion of the topics on stage – as well as a great deal of eating of the free ice-cream handed out.
The topics range from the energy savings of laser projectors, Scotland’s implementation of a bottle recycling scheme as well as demonstrations of how modular cinemas could be built and operated in a way that was low-carbon, affordable and community-oriented. Some topics were somewhat more esoteric and abstract than others, such as the cinema advertiser panel or “upstream” issues such as Albert (film production sustainability), while the second day contained more hands-on advice than the first one, though sadly the numbers were slightly down from the first day.
What is most encouraging about sustainability is that it is a collaborative area where different cinemas can work together without losing a competitive advantage. As the lesson from the brewery sector demonstrated, “combining resources accelerates progress, facilitates action and minimises unwise decisions.” By the end of the second day, it was clear that centering a conference around sustainability was a wise decision by the UKCA. It represented an important big and collective first step by the industry, where previously there had only been some localised excellence and compliance with directives on plastic straws. The theatrical industry cannot solve the climate crisis by itself, no matter how many times a cinema screens “An Inconvenient Truth.” While the next UKCA Conference won’t be a repeat of this one, sustainability is now firmly a part of the cinema industry’s conversation. Hopefully also of its action.
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