1. Take a look around you. What you see and perceive is the Environment. Nature has blessed us with a wonderful earth with all her delicately functioning Ecosystems that are conducive for a healthy living. Our ancestors have jealously guarded it and passed it on to us to live in and leave behind a better world. But what are we doing? Highly polluted Air, Water and Soil, destructed Ecosystems, Biodiversity loss, mindless mining, alarming extinction of Plant, Animal and other species, the looming large Energy crisis with fast dwindling fossil fuel deposits, new diseases with no known cures, Scientific warnings with empirical evidence on Global Warming and Climate Change, consumption driven lifestyles – the manifestation of Ecological degradation is multi faceted. What is appalling is the fact that we Humans are causing most of this and part of this destruction is not reversible. Why is this happening? The plain answer is because we, the humans, are either not aware or negligent about Environment. 
  2. Cinema – the moving images, was invented in the year 1895 and quickly spread all over the world. Starting with the phase of ‘silence’ through ‘talkies’, color, scope, various audio revolutions, 3D, the big IMAX, thrilling graphics – the journey of evolution of Cinema is fascinating. There were improvements in the technique of production and projection facilities. Today Cinema is by far the most powerful audio-visual medium with tremendous reach across the board. Television has brought this medium right into living rooms making it part of daily routine of billions of people. Films play a robust role in inspiring, spreading awareness and motivating for action to save our ENVIRONMENT and urge .
  1. The all encompassing and omnipotent Environment is as old as the earth but came into prominence only with the Brundtland Commission report of 1972 at Stockholm. Cinema is but a small component of the Environment that is abiotic and touches the senses of not only humans but also of other life forms. It is not uncommon to see pets watching TV along with the family! 
  2. Cinema is choice based – one can choose to watch a film, associate with it or simply abstain; where as there is no such option with regard to the Environment which is inescapable. We are just part of it the moment we are born and be so till the last and even beyond.
  3. With regard to Environment, films operate at two levels; first the process of filmmaking and second the impact of cinema on the minds of the audience. At the first level things can be improved by enhancing adherence to the green filming codes and codes of best practices to follow for sustainable film-making. In this aspect there is a huge gap between what should be and what is happening now. But it is in the second level that the movies play a vital role as a change maker by creating awareness among people and motivating them towards an environmental friendly thinking and pushing them towards adopting green life-styles. For awareness is the key to action. Conservation is not possible without the basic understanding of what we are going to protect. The possible ways in which humans can relate to ecological issues is ignorance and negligence and in both these cases what is urgently needed is Environmental Education and rise in the levels of public awareness. Cinema is the best suited strategic tool to achieve this. The present generation is born into things digital and is referred to as GenX. As compared to other mediums Cinema is better placed to create higher impact among them.
  4. We watch some environmental cinema and get inspired but then it sort of fades out. The reason is it does not touch our immediate lives, directly and individually. The boon and bane of Environment is that it operates indirectly and collectively. When something closer to us is threatened, we suddenly become an activist in the mind and slowly tend to forget about it in pursuit of our daily routines. At the most we are haunted by a guilt feeling that we need to act but we WONT. There may be many justifications for this non action, some of which can be valid also. We can all be activists at any given moment, atleast temporarily and firmly, by not just thinking but by doing action. It does not matter how tiny the action is, remember every little bit counts. 
  5. Things environment have a much wider scope and many times they are global in nature e.g., ozone layer depletion, rising sea levels, global warming etc., There are also issues that pertain to a geographical area and issues that affect only locally.  A good example to cite here would be the case of invasive species – rabbits which are not endemic or native to the Island nation Australia caused havoc after they were introduced there.
  6. The process of filmmaking causes heavy damage to the environment with its huge carbon footprint. Presently the Motion Picture Production is mostly a commercial activity that slants more towards profit making and less inclined for social messaging. There are efforts being made to make motion picture production and distribution sustainable but this is still in the nascent stage and needs to catch-up urgently. Legislation of Environment and Media need to be suitably amended to incorporate this concept in the law. It can be hoped that this will improve the situation largely. Of late all aspects of human life are increasingly becoming eco-friendly and cinema is no exception. The modern consumer driven society tuned us to want certain things (cars, clothes, computers, ready-to-consume stuff etc.,) and kind of forced to posses them by sheer peer pressure. We are not mindful of the severe stress this over-consumerism causes on the environment. For centuries we’ve lived off the land using up Earth’s Natural Resources at our leisure to make ‘stuff’ to make our lives easier.  It used to be that this stuff-making didn’t affect the earth so much but with the creation of industry, the combustion engine, fossil fuel use and now globalization, things started changing rapidly and the environmental degradation that we are seeing today is the product of the last 200 years or so. During later part of this period Cinema was very much in existence and we have cannot afford to continue to ignore the responsible role that cinema has got to play for the cause of Environment. 
  7. The cost of all this is frenzied human activity is the health of the Earth.  Many of the Ecological and Biological services of the environment are taken for granted. We fail to identify their value to our life and existence. Disposing off the enormous waste modern lifestyle generates; sourcing of medicine from rich biodiversity – plants & animals; clean air and water are some of them. Even the educated largely overlook this and find comfort in conveniently ignoring which is pathetic. Cinema has got to answer this on two counts. Firstly for reflecting the environmental concerns in a poor way and secondly for not taking the cause of the environment sufficiently into the masses. 
  8. It is pertinent here to refer to the topic in terms of Indian Cinema which churns out huge number of films year by year. Songs in films is an unique feature of Indian Cinema. There are many hit songs which incidentally or purposely highlight various aspects of Environment and thus help rise the eco-awareness. While lyricists bring out the importance and value of ecological traditions, music composers add lilting melodies brought to life by singers and complemented with the visual appeal by directors made these songs immortal. “Thevar Films” of Chennai is known for using animals as a supporting theme in their movies, and at times as the lead character. Rajesh Khanna‘s biggest blockbuster hit Haathi Mere Saathi/Hindi/1971, is a good example. Sometimes comedy in films is generated by treating animals in a negative way. For example tying crackers to an animal’s tail etc., and lighting them up to scare the animal, beating the animals, blowing up a caravan of vehicles, burning a forest for real ‘effect’,  These may make people laugh or give them thrill but this is all utter disregard to the environment. While there is much less we can do anything about existing films and they continue to be telecast and cause adverse effect on their minds, we can take precautionary measures in the films that are being made. The newly developed production techniques like graphics has given some respite in this regard. India has recently amended the law to give more and meaningful protection for wildlife during shooting and promotion of films. However, like with many other laws in India, the gap between the written word and implementation is huge and needs to be addressed.
  9. There is a new kind of environmental activism and it doesn’t necessarily require chaining yourself to a tree or protesting on the streets. Watch eco-films, improve your awareness and talk about it. Believe me, this simple act will yield great results. That is the power of media and mouth put together. Think.  What happens if all of us switched to consuming only environmentally sound goods & services and source our energy needs from sustainable origins like wind, wave, solar etc., and support environmental research and development groups? Electric cars charged with solar power will be in use ending our dependence on oil. There is no room for oil-driven wars.  We will have a world globalized in its communications but localized in its economies.  People will live in harmony with their environment instead of tirelessly trying to gain control over.  
  10. Historically cinema has played a robust role in promoting social causes including environmental issues.  Different genre of cinema viz., Feature films, Fiction, Documentary, Animation, Short Films, Docu-fictions, Drama, Religious, Futuristic Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Activist films etc., are all amenable for eco-messaging. To be effective, the genre of eco-cinema demands universal appeal crossing the barriers of language and region. There are a lot of television channels dedicated in full or in part to the cause of environment and also there is a regular calendar of film festivals on themes related to Environment like Biodiversity, Water, Climate change, Nature conservation etc., CMS Vatavaram in India is one such example. It is interesting to note that `Nanook of the North: A Story of Life and Love in the Actual Arctic` a 1922 silent film, considered to be the first feature-length documentary, has raised a great deal of curiosity in the cold desert ecosystems. This film captures the struggles of the Eskimo life in the Canadian Arctic. The influence of the medium has made a dramatic impact on Environmentalism, notably with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and more recently with Joao Amorim’s first feature-length animated documentary ‘2012: Time for Change’  is aimed at finding practical solutions. Take a look at some of the notable Eco-films. 
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Baraka (1992)
Dersu Uzala (1975)
Never Cry Wolf (1983)
Safe (1995)
Koyaanisqatsi, [aka-Life out of balance](1982)
The Day after Tomorrow (2004)
 Whale Rider (2003)  
Winged Migration (2001)
Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
Avatar (2009)
Chinatown (1974) 
Soylent Green (1973)
China Syndrome (1979)
Erin Brockovich (2000)
WALL-E (2008)
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006)

This list is purely an indicative selection of the author and there is every possibility of other short or long lists. The readers are encouraged to find full information as the same is not provided here due to space constraints. This include all genres [Fiction, Documentary, Animation Etc.,] Erin Brockovich and Avatar are good examples “cross-over” environmental films which had tremendous commercial successful and also help spread the message of environmental protection.

  1. With the fan following consisting of mad-for-movies masses the popular film personalities can really make a big difference to change the mindset of the general public. Instead a direct preaching, incidental teaching through mainstream films will help unlearn many misconceptions and enhance the importance of environment which it deserves. The genre of comedy is best suited for this. Let us consider the contrast between the act based on accepted perceptions and fact. The act of people killing a snake the moment they see it in-spite of the fact that many snakes are neither poisonous nor the snake bites untreatable, is a good example.  A hero, say Rajnikanth, can make wonders in service of biodiversity with just one quick scene or a shot or even with a single dialogue about saving biodiversity. Film celebrities [e.g., Richard Gere, our own John Abraham, Rahul Bose, Amala Akkineni] are sensitive to the cause of environment. Do you know that hero of the film Titanic Leonardo Wilhelm Di Caprio is a committed environmentalist and even, created, produced and narrated a documentary film on Natural Environment titled the 11th Hour/(2007).  There are many who work as Brand ambassadors to promote Environmental causes. 
  2. Many International Organizations including the United Nations and its various organs are doing good service for the environment. They set guidelines for member countries to follow on different issues including media. India is one of the pioneers in eco-legislation and law on wildlife filming. Certain countries are better placed than India in this regard while some others, for example many in Africa which are very rich Biodiversity are lagging behind. The COP11 to Convention on Biological Diversity [CBD] currently happening in Hyderabad, AP, India [1st to 19th Oct 2012] and the United Nations Environment Program [UNEP] are worth mentioning. Wildlife filmmaking has been around for many decades now. Many of us grew up watching classic wildlife films that carry a subtle environmental point. Many filmmakers feel that it’s not enough to just show the bountiful wonders of nature and expecting that viewers will to prompted to protect the nature is of no use. Many films entertain audiences with excellent footage without raising viewers’ awareness of the serious ecological issues threatening the world and the very existence of humans. All said and done, only strict observance to the Ethical Guidelines for wildlife filmmakers will help in wildlife conservation.
  3. There is some good news. In the recent years the popularity of An Inconvenient Truth, Avatar etc., has made people move towards contributing to solving the world’s environmental crises and the demand for Nature conservation films has gone up. Conservation-minded film makers now can think beyond the films into action by people who want more than entertainment. Post-viewing a film, they want to Google for more information, find links to Institutions and NGOs Civil Society etc., and look for help on how to protect the environment. Many wildlife filmmakers behave responsibly but there are some who prefer a great shot to the welfare of the animals they are filming. This way wildlife is being endangered and exploited for viewers’ pleasure, audiences are being cheated. Viewers often assume that everything in wildlife films is natural, but it is not so. Wildlife films feed on the strong curiosity people have about the natural world. The portrayals should be authentic and safety & welfare of the environment is kept in mind constantly. 
  4. The will of the people is most important in finding solutions to the environmental issues that now threaten the globe and government’s decision alone are not enough to make the changes necessary to make a positive difference.  Now is the time to move from awareness to action. We need to bid adieu to the instant gratification culture and welcome a sustainable life-style. Ignoring the planet for profit is no more a virtue but a sin. Cinema is for posterity, forever and so is our lonely blue earth. Let us all join hands and save nature for now and future.   

-Gangadhar Panday – actor, environmentalist & founder of www.babulfilms.in can be reached at e-mail [email protected]

[words 2630]

1Environment – present status – reasons
2Cinema – history – link with environment
3Environment – relatively new
4Cinema -Option to choose: Environment is inescapable
52 levels, filmmaking process and the impact on people
6Reaction to eco-cinema, every little bit counts
7Wide scope of environment – rabbits
8Responsible role of Cinema
9Cinema has got to answer on 2 counts
10Indian Cinema & legislation
11Power of media and mouth; harmony vs. control
12List of films
13Film celebrities
14CBD UNEP Ethical code etc.,
15Audience post viewing reactions