By Dianna Lefas
In the Hudson Valley:
Aburgeoning film studio goes responsibly green.
It’s entirely unpretentious. The farm stretches for thirty-five acres; half managed, half woodlands. A rambling horse barn turned movie studio hugs the earth somewhere in the heap of trees, swollen earth and sprawling vistas.
This is BCDF Pictures in Kerhonkson, NY, a complete independent movie production studio in the heart of the Hudson Valley. It has brought in actors such as Olympia Dukakis, Vera Farmiga and Aidan Quinn; and produced seven films in the three years it has been in operation. It is a young but strong company already making its mark in cinema, sans Hollywood.
More impressive, however, is its progressive, almost holistic approach to life, and a zeal for diminishing man’s carbon footprint, at least in their neck of the woods. It is perhaps the first corporation of any size to include an organic garden on the premises for feeding its crew and surrounding neighbors, adding new dimensions to the term, ‘eat local.’
Owned and operated by producer brothers Claude and Brice Dal Farra and Brice’s wife Lauren Munsch, the film studio / farm is a hybrid. It combines business (the film industry) with conservation (the green philosophy). It recycles, reuses, repurposes and redistributes its assets so that there is minimal assault on the earth’s resources.
This is a business model leading the way of sustainable and responsible operational practices.
Solar panels feed energy to the industry, though Claude concedes that it pays for fifty percent of electricity used and will take seventeen years to recoup the initial investment. Still, while this is not considered profitable for now, it is, he says, responsible.
Also responsible is the organic garden which grows food to feed the actors and crew when filming, as well as the neighbors, some of whom tend the garden. The neighbors, some who do not own land, are free to garden and take whatever vegetables and fruits their labor has nurtured for their own tables. It is communal in the purest sense of the word. It is also unique – and refreshing - in the usual cut-throat business of the film industry.
“It is more at a personal, human level, to do the little something you want, to be the change you want,” explains Claude, an unassuming PhD in neuroscience who came to this country six years ago from France. “I am not trying to change the world, but on the human level, I am trying to take a personal responsibility for change.”
Claude may approach the film industry as a businessman, but his focus to treat the earth and neighbors with respect is artistic and, in a very quiet sense, passionate.
For a man who claims not to be a philosopher, he has a unique philosophy all his own; a gentle, kindly philosophy that ripples across Kerhonkson. For this neuroscientist, perhaps, he muses, the only neuroscientist in the movie industry, it’s really about “being true to who we are as human beings.”
“The garden brings satisfaction and a lot of pride in doing something our ancestors were doing and had knowledge in,” Claude explains. “It is about knowing that I cannot turn my back on who we are, but finding peace in the thousands of years of who we are and ought to be.”
This peaceful philosophy, while welcoming change, ardently adheres to a long revered culture of earth cultivation and preservation and, more succinctly, community embracing. Yes, community embracing; an attitude common a scant generation ago when people depended upon each other for subsistence, fellowship and the interchange of ideas, well before Facebook separated us into compartments of cryptic five word sentences. It honored multi-generational integration, giving importance to each member of society, especially meaningful now when we have become a society that deletes whatever we do not consider relevant to us at any specific moment. There is a sweet exchange of fellow-feeling that enriches everyone involved in committing to the community embrace.
And it is in this community embrace that retired neighbors with horticultural knowledge, come to the garden to plant, teach, harvest and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Literally.
“I know I am quite privileged because I own the land, and neighbors who have a lot of time benefit from it. No one is in it for the profit,” Claude continues about the production company’s organic garden.
Some of the neighbors who tend the garden are retired and Claude has a special place in his heart for them. “Retired people can be immensely useful. That to me is a big challenge of modern society, to not let people think they have become useless when they turn 65 or 70.”
“I have land, they have time. We have the resources and we can combine that to everyone’s benefit. They tell me how they plant the garden, at the same time teaching me, the younger generation, about gardening. It’s very sustainable.”
Last year, Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals aside, Claude and company planted thirty-three fruit trees. They will learn this year what has survived and what has not and will amend the next planting accordingly.
The neuroscientist turned movie producer purchases the garden’s heirloom vegetable seeds from a local woman who propagates them. He affirms that the local people are fully aware of the necessity for conservation and preservation, and have a determined sense of responsible stewardship. Keeping operations community-based involves people in the community who have knowledge and expertise to share.
Claude, whose mother is a modern dancer, whose grandfather is a retired opera singer and whose great-grandfather was a violinist, has art in his blood, though he and his brother remain staunch businessmen and approach their industry with the firm eye of entrepreneurs. However, there is more than the steel-cold eye of a businessman – there is an intelligent goal toward conscientious resource management, something many corporations could learn from.
Instead of disused parking lots surrounding vacant department stores, imagine blossoming gardens used to feed local business crews and office personnel, as well as neighboring housing complexes. Preservation of land for nutritional use at this point in our history should be paramount. Once land is gone, it’s gone. BCDF Pictures understands this and is creating, in its own space, a prime model easily emulated even by larger corporations.
Claude remains self-reflective on this matter. “I totally understand that big corporations need to exist and push their way of agriculture. I don’t argue that. (Having a sustainable garden) is just my way.”
His immense house, which has the dimensions of a dairy barn with just as high a ceiling, is heated only by a pellet and a woodstove. Obviously well insulated, the house retained a temperature of 68 degrees on this cold winter day on the strength of the stoves alone. Burning in the woodstove were dead branches gleaned from the surrounding woods. While only a small step in conservation, that small step combined with many small steps, strongly impacts the environment.
While Claude quietly lives his philosophy, he does have some thoughts on the matter.
“Our modern society has evolved. It has become very scared and closed. I am not in the business of lecturing people. Minding my own business, planting good food, eating healthy food, trying not to have a stressful life – this is what I do.”
“It has to start with somebody,” I offer.
He kindly corrects me. “It always has to start with a lot of somebodies who believe it’s the right thing to do. It does not make us uncompetitive; it’s about being bold in our decisions, and we can have very human decisions. It’s really about being responsible.
His parting thoughts?
“People need to be courageous and live their lives,” he continues. “There are many good people in the world, and they do good things and it ripples out. But, it is not always easy. Sometimes it takes time to see the light through the forest.”