Showing Green Movies Legally

Published on: June 29, 2015

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For years now you’ve been hearing that Unity faith centers have been showing environmentally-oriented, spiritually uplifting movies. Perhaps you’ve been wondering how your community might follow suit. It may have also crossed your mind that there could be legal hoops your spiritual community has to jump through to show these films.

Well, as in many opportunities in life, the definitive answer is … yes and no. Unlike with a major film studio release, independent filmmakers often give the business end of their work to distribution companies. Therefore, you will usually have to pay a fee to the distribution company for a public showing. As you are a nonprofit, you will likely be able to negotiate showing rights at a discounted cost. Typically we’ve found that fees range from under $60 for films that have been on the shelf awhile to around $250 for newer releases. Some distributors will also ask you to sign a screening license agreement. Still, there is no industry norm and requirements are often on a case-by-case basis.

One of the better known environmental genre distributors is Bull Frog Films. They are prepared to discount their price if you tell them that your spiritual community will not charge admission and you plan a “community screening.” One of their fine contemporary features is entitled A Fierce Green Planet. You can watch the trailer of this and other films at their website.

Green Planet Films is a wonderful one-woman shop distribution company in San Francisco. The company sells a variety of movies for both children (e.g. Little Miss Dewie) and adult (e.g. Thin Ice: The Inside Story of Climate Science) audiences. Their prices range from just $39 to $350.

Another way to acquire movies is to go to the website of a particular film. In some cases, your congregants may be able to negotiate with the movie maker directly. Understand that for many independent creators, their main motivation is to get their films shown. We have observed that some Unity communities have acquired movie rights at a very cheap price. Occasionally they are free.

Local green teams and their faith communities have generally shared love offering contributions with these film makers. This feels like the right thing to do. The motivation is to help support the independent artist. In this spirit, there has been a pattern of a suggested love offering of $5 or what attendees can afford. This practice has also been employed when spiritual communities have paid for films but the love offering has been specifically advertised as helping to defray the cost of the movie.

If your faith center is a member of your state’s Interfaith Power and Light organization, you have a great chance of getting films through them. Usually, they have prepaid for viewing rights.

The least expensive acquisition routes, of course, come from the big Hollywood studio releases. For example, you can begin your regular cinema program by renting Disney’s WALL-E. Also, for years, Disney has produced beautiful environmentally-oriented films for the general public. They own a large catalog.

Green movie nights have attracted the largest audiences when they are regularly scheduled. Congregants and their friends make it a habit to learn what’s playing on the ministry’s movie night (e.g. first Friday, second Saturday, etc.). We hear too, that green team facilitators enjoy leading fun and educating question-and-answer periods after the showing. By the way, if you are confident of your community’s maintenance team, you may wish to sell popcorn.

Being that this is Unity after all, we have learned that it is not unheard of that just the right film will somehow find its way into your green team leader’s life. For example, when she feels strongly connected to Spirit, Unity on Cape Cod’s Martha Powers says, “Films just come to me.” We are not surprised.

The movies presently being shown at Unity faith centers include: Sand Wars, Planetary, and The Wisdom to Survive. For a more complete list of environmental films which have been out for a while, we recommend our team website at Unity.org/EarthCare and click on the Resources tab. We predict the new sense of community you’ll create with an ongoing environmental film series will be worth at least a two green thumbs up.


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Ron Habin
Ron Habin is a cultural anthropologist living in Orlando, Florida. He co-created the Unity EarthCare Ministry Team in January 2008. He has chaired the Green Team at Christ Church Unity, Orlando, Fla., since Earth Day 2008. He also serves as a chaplain at CCU.

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