Jane Goodall in Sudbury | Science North

Jane Goodall Documentary Sets Bar for Sustainable Film Production

Doc receives inaugural Sustainable Production Award from Canadian Academy

9 mins read

Jane Goodall’s might best be known for her work with chimpanzees, but her legacy for developing our understanding of the planet now extends to the ways in which documentaries are made. Jane Goodall: Reason for Hope, produced by Science North, follows the iconic primatologist as she share her mission for sustainability. The documentary draws upon Goodall’s four pillars for hope—human intellect, the resilience of nature, the importance of youth engagement, and the power of the human spirit—and embeds her eye for sustainability as part of its production. The film is the inaugural recipient of Canadian Academy’s Sustainable Production Award this week for showing the field how to reduce a production’s footprint.

Reasons for Hope is really about saving the environment and the planet in the perspective of Jane Goodall and we’re following her advice and her philosophy along the way, so we needed to reflect that in how we made the film,” says director/David Lickley, speaking with POV by phone. “Jane is all about sustainability, reduced footprint, recycling, reusing.”

Lickley notes that the crew drew upon Goodall’s trait for being one of the least carbon-intensive and consumerist people he’d encountered. “She wanted us to do this as responsibly as we could, given that we’re travelling all over the world with her,” says Lickley.

The film hops the globe, shooting in locations like Sudbury, Ontario, where Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program mobilizes young people to heal the Earth to high up in the Alps where Jane flies high to observe the Northern Bald Ibis’ migration.

Lickley adds that one key development for the film’s sustainable impact was securing a vehicle sponsor with Rivian. The auto company specializes in electric trucks and electric “fleets at scale.”

Having a fleet of electric vehicles move equipment and key creative personnel was essential, including getting people from Los Angeles to Montana for scenes capturing Bison on the plains of the Blackfeet nation. “We also drove our equipment from Toronto all the way to Montana for a shoot just to keep the footprint down as low as we could as well,” explains Lickley. “We just went to we went to great lengths once we knew what the stories were to make each story work within our model.”

Jane Goodall in the Alps | Science North

Smart and sustainable travel accounts for one factor that helped the production exceed its CO2 emissions footprint goal by over half. After production set its target at a CO2e footprint of 261.56 tonnes, efforts to achieve said target actually brought the film to a footprint of 100.46 tonnes. By comparison, an article in Time published earlier this year puts the average footprint for smaller independent films in the ballpark of 391 metric tonnes, while larger Hollywood productions can have a footprint in the range of 3370 tonnes of CO2. A 2022 study by Telefilm Canada, meanwhile, pegs the average homegrown film or series at 280 tonnes of CO2 emissions—nearly three times the footprint of Reasons for Hope.

“Sustainable production is just being responsible and really planning ahead of time so you’re not caught with having to do things like bring bottled water,” explains line producer and co-executive producer Brenda Tremblay, who was tasked with overseeing the documentary’s sustainability plan. Similarly, a youth mentorship programme tapped into one of Goodall’s pillars.

Tremblay says that monitoring a production’s footprint doesn’t really differ by location, either. “When I did my research in preparation for the shoot in Montana, I saw there were no recycling plants, no composting plants, for example,” explains Tremblay. She notes that the team planned accordingly to bring things back to Canada for recycling. “It was just about understanding the region itself before going and then making sure that we had implemented actions, dealt with local suppliers, and planning so that we could minimise the impact.” Tremblay says this helped the crew leave zero footprint at locations.

Goodall in Sudbury | Science North

Additionally, using local crews kept emissions at a minimum. Especially for the shoot in Sudbury, which considers revitalization efforts following years of environmental impact caused by nickel mining, only Goodall and the director of photography needed to be brought in. Local tech in Montana helped capture a sequence about the resilience of the bison, while a more complicated shoot in which Goodall delivers a lecture in Phoenix tasked the team with securing a few local cinematographers to have extra cameras on the ground without adding to the footprint of air travel.

“Jane says every one of us makes an impact every single day in how we behave, and we can choose what kind of impact to make,” adds Lickley. “This personal philosophy carries into every single decision we made.”

However, Lickley and Tremblay note that the conversation to follow Goodall’s lead and deliver a sustainable production happened in 2019, which predates newer frameworks in Canadian production. Since then, Ontario Creates, for example, has developed the Green Screen guide. Tremblay says that it was actually a tip from Ontario Creates that pointed her to the UK’s albert system as a helpful tool to measure emissions. Tremblay says she trained on albert and used that as her north star during production.

Having those conversations in 2019 also means that Reasons for Hope inevitably had to take additional measures into consideration with COVID-19. After getting the greenlight in February 2020, Lickley admits they couldn’t shoot much with Goodall quarantined in Birmingham, England, but Tremblay says that some of the necessitated shifts worked in their favour. “COVID forced you to try and minimise your travel to begin with and to bring smaller crews,” she notes. Additionally, with Science North being a government agency, Tremblay and Lickley note that the production was eligible for support to help offset related costs.

When it comes to being an example for the industry, the Reasons for Hope team says that film production is no different from any other industry when facing the future. “Receiving the 2024 Canadian Screen Award for Sustainable Production, presented by CBC, for Jane Goodall: Reasons for Hope is a testament to our collective effort to inspire and educate while prioritizing environmental responsibility,” said Science North CEO Ashley Rose via email. “This honour reinforces our mission to champion sustainability in every aspect of our work.”

“You really have to pay attention to what impact you’re having and doing the environmental documentaries that we do, it’s our responsibility to do it the way that has the least impact on the environment,” says Lickley. “I think going forward, lots of people are going to do it. It’ll save money in the end too. These are more efficient ways of doing things.”

Jane Goodall: Reasons for Hope is now playing in select IMAX theatres worldwide.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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