What background brought you to this project? I met Max Perelman, the project's research director, at a café. He was off to China to do a research project, talking to government officials and top developers to find out what was going on with China's green-building industry. He was going to produce a PDF for the Monterey Institute of International Studies that nobody was going to read. This is a subject that a lot of people have questions about, and there's very little out there. I said, “Let's make a film about it.” Three weeks later, we were on a plane.
Who is the film's audience? There were two: Architects, consultants, and green-building professionals in the USA, people who are asking, “Is it time for my technology or service in China?” The other was the more policy-related, in the States and in China, who are trying to understand how best to accelerate that industry by hearing what business leaders are talking about and the barriers that they're facing.
Recycling in China involves individual entrepreneurs gathering materials on bicycles. But if you want to bring green building products to China, you probably have to be an 800-pound gorilla, right? As a small player, if you're foreign, it's going to be very difficult for you to find an edge in the China market. You will be copied if you have a successful product, and Chinese developers work with foreigners that are established and big. Because there are a flood of small entrepreneurial companies who have fantastic products that have a place in China, they're starting to form consortium groups where they join forces under one name, they have a series of products represented by one agent, and they sell group products rather than individual products.
Arup partner Jean Rogers says in the film that once these consortiums are set right, the Chinese people will mass-replicate them. There are optimists across China who really believe this is possible. China is set up in a very different way than we're used to. A common misconception is that the Chinese government can snap their fingers and make anything happen because it's a one-party state. There is a lot of disconnect between the central government and what the local governments do. It's not just about going green; it's about saving a huge amount of infrastructure costs. They're spending $35 billion a year on infrastructure costs for new second- and third-tier residential developments, and if they can save by building off the grid, then it gives them a huge incentive.
One person in the film states, “We need to go back into Chinese history and retrieve good ways of living.” Jason Hu, deputy general manager of China Merchant Property Development Co., is a visionary developer. He is in touch with true sustainability. It's not just about using the latest technologies; it's about reconnecting with a cyclical philosophy, something that they have lost in the last 20 years or so. The majority of the Chinese people still live in a very low-tech way. Traditional Chinese architecture is in tune with its environment, from ventilation to the type of clay that they use in the roof for heat exchange. It minimizes resources. China has a great thing on its side— the fact that they have such a strong and ancient culture rooted in that type of philosophy.
Is the film being shown in China? We hope so. We have a distributor selling the film internationally, and we sent several copies to CCTV and Phoenix TV in China. If we did broadcast it in China, we have to cut a few sections that have any negative reference to the government because they're very sensitive to that.
What's your next step? China's committed to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent of GDP by 2010. The local governments have to prove they're meeting certain goals. There is a mandatory course that every mayor in China has to attend. A group working with the Central Party School to form the sustainability curriculum has asked us to produce a series of films to understand some of the pioneering projects in China and in other countries.
POSITION Creative director, The Green Dragon Media Project, greendragonfilm.org
FYI Harrison has been making films for more than a decade, for both the BBC in England and the ABC in Australia. She spent nine weeks last summer visiting nine cities across China.