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Attitudes Towards Environmental Films Changing

Cosima Dannoritzer, an award-winning German TV documentary and filmmaker, said she has felt a sea change in attitudes towards films about environmentalism over the last five years.

Dannoritzer was addressing Professor Miklos Sukosd’s Environmental Communication class about the making of her latest environmental documentary, “The Lightbulb Conspiracy.”

The film looks at planned obsolescence, the policy of designing consumer products to have a limited shelf life so that people will have to buy them repeatedly. The stories range from the historic – the ever-lasting light bulb and ladder-proof stockings – to the contemporary – the lifespan of the iPod battery. It also looks at the rise in consumer resistance to environmentally unfriendly company policies.

Dannoritzer told her audience that when she initially pitched the film to broadcasters, they told her to exclude solutions as they were concerned that audiences wouldn’t want to be told to change their consumer habits. However, by the end of the filmmaking process, she was encouraged by the fact that broadcasters had changed their minds. This change was heartening and reflected a wider movement within society, she said.

The filmmaker is in Hong Kong for a two-month long artist-in-residence programme organised by the Goethe-Institut Hong Kong and the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg. She recounted some of the myths surrounding planned obsolescence. “It’s my job as a documentary maker to replace the rumours with the facts,” she said.

Dannoritzer started making environmental films ten years ago. He first film charted the anthropology of rubbish in Barcelona. She filmed the contents of bin bags in different areas to find “a portrait of the city through its rubbish”, noting the vast differences in waste between the affluent and poor areas.

“The Lightbulb Conspiracy” was originally planned as a 52-minute historic film, but “Something happened during the research,” she said. “More and more examples started coming in.” She said the result was a 75-minute film with modern-day examples that looked towards the future.

Dannoritzer revealed that she had decided to make the film for television in order to maximise the audience. “It was a conscious decision to make it for TV. Even at midnight, you get more viewers than a six-week run in art house cinemas in different countries,” she said.

When the audience began debating whether consumers hold as much responsibility as the companies involved in environmentally destructive practices such as planned obsolescence, she said this was exactly the kind of debate a documentary like hers should encourage: “The dialogue for me is always part of the film afterwards.”

Trailer for The Lightbulb Conspiracy: