Carbon Neutral Distribution

Anne Thompson recently wrote a column in Variety about the “greening” of Hollywood–the attempts by certain folks in the biz to make the process of making films more environmentally friendly. I wrote her a polite note telling her that she’d actually missed an obvious angle–the fact that the current 35mm theatrical distribution process is quite unfriendly to the environment. It would take a lot of carbon credits for the industry to overcome the many trucks and planes that are necessary to delivery those 35mm film cans, not to mention the process of making the prints, which requires putting petroleum-based substances into baths of toxic chemicals. Then consider what has to happen to all those prints when they are ultimately “destroyed.” In other words, theatrical distributors have a lot to answer for with Mother Nature.

But rather than fret about it, perhaps the studios should wake up to the fact that there is a better solution than paying for carbon credits–digital theaters. Imagine a world in which film prints are merely digital files, and those files can be delivered electronically without the need for airplanes and trucks. Hollywood doesn’t want you to know this, but this world exists right now. 

Here’s the deal…

The studios got together a few years ago, and after much angst about how to approach digital distribution, settled on what they call the DCI Specification–a standard for digital distribution. Without speculating on all the real reasons they are resisting this change, let’s just say that the bar was set so high that it virtually guaranteed to slow things down. The problem is twofold. First, the equipment is extraordinarily expensive. Second, the files necessary to adhere to the spec are so huge that they can (at this time) only be distributed by shipping (as in trucks and airplanes) large hard drives around.

However, equipment exists right now that puts an image on the screen that audiences cannot distinguish from 35mm prints (unless of course they are sitting in the first row, and they may notice that the image doesn’t shake like 35mm). This is the type of digital projection equipment that has been in use at the Sundance Film Festival for a number of years, and is the same equipment that was installed for George Lucas’ digital release of the “Star Wars” movies. This equipment is not only affordable, but is getting less expensive by the day. More importantly, the files sizes are small enough that they can be securely delivered via the internet–now. This happens to be the equipment we use in the Emerging Cinemas Network and is also used by other independent exhibitors and distributors around the world. In fact, we’ve been working with these companies to create an alternate spec for independent and international films called i-cinema.

So here’s the irony…

We tried to book “An Inconvenient Truth” in our digital theaters. Paramount told us that they were not going to allow the film to be shown digitally. What they really meant was that they wouldn’t let us show it because our theaters are not DCI compliant. Like the other majors, they are basically boycotting non-DCI digital theaters. So, Paramount lost the opportunity to practice what the film preaches. As I asked Anne Thompson, do you think Al Gore knows this?

5 thoughts on “Carbon Neutral Distribution”

  1. Dear Ira and Emerging,

    As the producer/director of a film that deals with environmental issues and personal responsibility (“The Pack” starring Lucie Arnaz et al), I have to thank you for this blog, as you convinced me to stop worrying about the blowing up of “The Pack” to 35mm and the possible lost quality of the film which was shot on 35mm and mini-dv. We are contemplating an offer to distribute the film via digitizing the film and showing it in theaters that can screen it that way and it looks much more inviting than I thought. THANKS,

    Alyssa Rallo Bennett

  2. Bravo Ira!

    How would you like to set up a digital screening facility in the (new, renovated, and resurrected) Old Town Hall in lovely Pond Village, Brookfield in central (really smack in the middle of) Vermont?

    We could run an i-cinema festival in this idyllic spot. . .along the lines of the Marlboro Music festival. but smaller. Maybe it could be a traveling show and hit all the tiny towns through out Vermont. I volunteer to run it. Lets talk.

    Natalie Lardner

  3. Is there a web site that covers the i-cinema standard in more detail? Which other distributors use it?

  4. You can see more at So far we have Microsoft on board in supporting the standard, and we’re talking to independent theaters chains all over the world about adopting it. Some of these chains are already using the standard without having realized it.

  5. Hi Ira,
    I just completed shooting a narrative feature, A MOUNTAIN CALLED HOPE, at a garbage collecting town called Promised Land, in the Philippines. You won’t believe the magnitude and monstrosity of waste from all over the world in this place. To give ou an idea, please check some images and my trailer at



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