Posted on 7th February 2024

Education Partnership Spotlight: Sustainable Farming Onscreen, and Sustainable Filmmaking Off, with The State of Earth

I’ve always been interested in capturing stories and seeing how they can have an impact on people and create change. Innes Letch, a filmmaking graduate from UWE, always knew that the stories she told onscreen would be linked to her passion for exploring issues the climate, biodiversity and wildlife basically problems that are very serious in the world right now. I thought through making these films I could have a small amount of impact and try and do something about the problems in the world right now. 

While studying at UWE, Innes created The State of Earth, a short documentary following the organic food movement from its beginnings in the UK as the industrialisation of farming started to happen. ‘I found this female pioneering farmer who I really wanted to share the story of – it was important to me in quite a male dominated industry to create a diverse message. I wanted to project a female character but then it became so much more than that. It became about sharing a positive message about a change that people were making in the farming sector.’ 

The team started their journey by looking for archive footage to tell the story of Lady Eve, who in the 1950s founded The Soil Association, an organisation that has come on to transform the way Britain eats, farms and cares for the natural world. ‘It’s crazy how much footage is on people’s drives and hanging around, and you just have to reach out and ask people and they are often willing to help.’ Pursuing archive footage in fact offered the biggest leads for the production, as the team discovered characters who knew Lady Eve and were able to speak to them directly. 

Of course, making a film so closely connected with the environment obviously meant the team wanted to make the production itself sustainable. Their efforts included staying overnight for consecutive shooting days – ‘and for us that was all the better because we really got to immerse ourselves in these beautiful locations.’ Using rechargeable batteries, prioritising archive footage and getting the whole team involved were also key. ‘If there was a problem, we always thought, “how can we resolve it in the most sustainable way.”’ 

‘There’s not one positive action in farming,’ Innes says of the holistic nature of farming – something it shares closely with sustainability in general. ‘We wanted to leave this message of how important it is to support good growing. That is in effect supporting biodiversity, soil health, carbon sequestering – there are so many trickling down points of impact from that one action.’ 

It was also about opening up the conversation because so many people don’t fully understand (or haven’t been given the tools to understand) what regenerative farming is, how they can get involved. It was important to make it accessible in the narrative and not overwhelm with information. In the digital age, film and television are the fastest and most emotive way to reach people because moving image is so engaging and you can really share stories all around the world. The dream is to do screenings in places where they might not have access to the internet and do more community screenings and have more impact in areas that might need it.

— Innes Letch

Innes came into contact with albert in the first year of her filmmaking degree at UWE, learning about the practical sustainable methods to use behind the camera. But what also stood out was the attention to what you’re telling the audience. ‘It made me think a lot about not only the impact I wanted to have from the start of the production through to the end, but also the story I’m telling and how that is contributing to promoting positive messages around sustainability as well.’ 

Now in the industry, Innes has taken what she’s learnt and is applying to in her job. While in a smaller role than on her student work, and therefore with less direct control, her experience working positively with sustainability on production is a massive asset. ‘I’m not in the director’s seat anymore, but I can definitely engage more in conversations with people, ask questions about what they’re doing specifically to make the shoot more sustainable. It’s given me the tools to engage on a larger scale.’