SXSW Review: Greenlit

By  · Published on March 20th, 2010

As I’ve mentioned time and time again (and time again, mind you) in reviews of documentaries, there’s a certain “lightning in a bottle” element to creating a cinematic experience out of a real life situation. It is impossible to manufacture a story where no story exists, and even more difficult to craft a story out of a little bit of story. Such is the case with Greenlit, the eco-friendly doc about making a movie that has less of an impact on our environment. Because Hollywood is, in fact, one of the foremost killers of mother nature’s beauty. What, with their production vehicles, union regulations and addiction to bottled water.

Culturally, the concept of “going green” shouldn’t be lost on any of us at this point. Recycling was beginning to get big back in the 90s. I remember this from my days in middle school, when my mother would make me fill blue grocery bags with cans of the soda that would ultimately help make me the chubby adult I am today, and set them in a separate pile from the other trash on the street. It’s nothing new – though according to this movie, the concept seems pretty foreign to the workers of Hollywood.

At the center of Greenlit is Miranda Bailey, the producer, director and subject of the story. She’s also executive producing a film called The River Why, which has committed to being green. At the onset, Bailey attacks the situation with levity and grace. And in her own very Morgan Spurlock-esque way, she introduces us to the variety of opinions of her immediate family – to her staunch Republican husband, to her erratically noncommittal mother in-law. She also watches Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth as research, and charmingly falls asleep on the couch as the former Vice President drones on about polar ice caps. At this point, the movie’s message is hard to pick up – is it for or against the concept of “green”? This will become an even bigger problem later.

As the production wears on, the trials and tribulations of a Hollywood production are compounded by composting. The entire “green” initiative seems to be more of a side dish rather than an entree. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t – and its only interesting when The River Why’s production designer Tyler Robinson is on screen. His cynical, sarcastic outlook on the whole situation certainly gets a few laughs. Bailey is also charming and wide-eyed to the world of eco-friendliness. She would have made a great subject, had she focused more on her own journey than the tedium of the production, and the faux-emotional roller coaster ride of green specialist Lauren Selman. In the end, we only feel bad for Selman, whose job as eco-hall monitor is both under-appreciated and probably overpriced for the lackluster results she turns in on the production, despite her own tireless efforts. It’s sad, but a cameraman needs his bottled water.

Perhaps the greatest hiccup in Bailey’s story is that the film never finds its message. Sure, we are presented with reasons why Hollywood should do a better job of protecting the environment, but we never really see the practical advantage of going green. It’s evident that the process is expensive, tedious and at best, is halfheartedly executed by the same hybrid-driving folks who would publicly champion such an effort. If anything, the message of Greenlit is that “going green” works in small increments. The sad news there is that it will take Hollywood quite a while before they’re giving up their bottled water and putting compost in the right bin, despite large signs and color-coding. In a spurt of accidental brilliance, Bailey does find the heart of the issue – it takes awareness and little steps to get the world on the right path. I’m not sure if that’s what she was going for, but that’s certainly what she got.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)