The second life of film sets and a preview of the Ukraine Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
The worlds created by films might be imaginary but the sets where these stories are staged are real – and so is the, on average, 15 tons of waste a film created by discarding them once production wraps. La Ressourcerie du Cinéma is working hard to change this. Set up in 2020, it is the first Paris-based service that hires and sells used film set materials. The team goes to studios and hauls away props that would otherwise end up in landfill. “It’s important for studios to have a company like us that can pick up materials and try to put them back into circulation,” says Karine d’Orlan de Polignac, the project’s co-founder (pictured), who previously worked in waste management.
La Ressourcerie du Cinéma’s huge warehouse in Montreuil is filled with pieces of decor patiently awaiting their next role, from doors to Roman-style columns. But most of the company’s space is taken up by hundreds of wood panels used to build film sets, which are either covered in wallpaper or painted to look like brick or stone walls.
“There is a real desire to change things in the industry, especially among the young”
“Until the 1970s it was common for studios to store the material used to build sets,” says Jean-Roch Bonnin, who spent some 20 years working as a prop master before founding La Ressourcerie with D’Orlan de Polignac and production designer William Abello. “Set designers used to cover the wood with a piece of fabric before painting over it, so that it could be peeled off at the end of the production and reused more easily.”
By the 1980s, however, materials were cheaper and rents more expensive. Film studios gradually stopped stocking sets and started producing more and more waste. Today few but the biggest film studios, such as Italy’s Cinecittà, continue to stock and reuse film set material. In France there are efforts to correct this: earlier this year the government expanded an anti-waste law making it illegal to destroy a range of unsold goods. But La Ressourcerie also offers a financial incentive: it charges production companies less than the cost of hiring a refuse lorry.
For now, only a fraction of what comes to La Ressourcerie makes it back onto film sets; most is repurposed in the construction industry. But the team hopes to grow its appeal. Building is under way to increase storage capacity and allow set designers to test props on site. There are also plans to run sustainability workshops. “There is a real desire to change things in the industry, especially among the young,” says D’Orlan de Polignac. “They realise that working within these constraints is challenging but it can be more creative too.”
Co-curator, Ukraine pavilion at the Venice Biennale
Having managed to rescue it for the Venice Biennale, the curators of the Ukraine pavilion are hosting Kharkiv-based artist Pavlo Makov’s kinetic sculpture “Fountain of Exhaustion: Acqua Alta”. Co-curator Lizaveta German speaks to monocle.
How has the run-up been?
We have had support from the art community, curators, institutions and people who just want to help. We are cultural workers, not soldiers, but we can make a difference.
What does it mean for you to be able to go ahead?
It’s a way to show that Ukraine is not just a country of disaster but one with a strong vision for the future.
Will the artwork have a new resonance?
It was political when it was created in 1995, about the exhaustion of resources: economic, ecological, political. Today, it’s about the exhaustion of humanity. It was made in Kharkiv so it’s a metaphor for the city, which is now in ruins.
What is your hope for the Ukrainian cultural world?
I hope that it can finally gain its own voice. It’s terrible that the price for this is a destroyed country and thousands of lives. But it’s time to show that we won’t be overshadowed by Russian culture any more.
Venice Biennale runs from 23 April to 27 November.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Ambroise Tézenas. Image: Yevgen Nikiforov