Posted on 6th June 2024

BFI Sustainable Screen: Black Samphire

There is nothing more powerful than when content and production come together to enact climate action and that is exactly what the team behind the new film, Black Samphire, did.

The base of any great film is a compelling story and incorporating sustainability into the storyline itself was always a given with Black Samphire. As a Silicon Gothic Film, it was decided that the short should interrogate a modern-day monster, and one that kept coming up in the news was water pollution. As a country surrounded by water, a UK-based story seemed an appropriate fit for this.

“I’ve always wanted my first feature to interrogate our relationship with our natural environment, and there was no better setting than the place I grew up; the uncanny power of the marshlands alongside local folklore of people disappearing on them always fascinated me. So Black Samphire is a proof of concept for the feature-length version of this story.

 Black Samphire started off as a film about the overconsumption of natural resources. However, as two of the spots I swam in when I was young were closed off this summer due to rising water toxicity levels and especially after the disaster at the world triathlon championship, the story developed to interrogate water pollution as a primary focus.” – Cathy Wippell, writer, actor and co-founder of Silicon Gothic

A passion for our lived environment and sustainability didn’t just run through the film’s storyline, it was also a key consideration when it came to planning and production.

Black Samphire was partly funded through a crowdfunding campaign. As part of the fundraising initiative, the Black Samphire HoD’s cleaned up East Wittering beach in West Sussex where the film was shot. During the clean-up, the team filled almost two full bags of rubbish, equating to about six kilos of plastic waste. The majority was made up of sailing waste, fishing gear and plastic food wrapping.

But the more shocking discovery came a couple of weeks later when the team also cleaned up the Thames Southbank outside the BFI. During the London clean-up, the team filled over fifteen bags of rubbish, equating to 65 kilos of waste gathered over only 45 minutes. The majority of salvageable plastic waste was taken back to be sorted, cleaned and recycled.

 “Doing these beach cleans was a fantastic way to involve our crew first-hand with the issue of water pollution, and served as a further incentive to get the film made. It also inspired Silicon Gothic to add a clause to the manifesto which leads the company’s filmmaking process; ‘to carry out at least one climate positive action per film, in accordance with the issue the film addresses.’ This is something we will be implementing in each film we produce from now on, no matter how big or small. We don’t want our process to be just about minimising damage, we want to actively repair and improve our environment” – Joseph Archer, Co-founder, Silicon Gothic Films

Making a film with a strong environmental message was an important driver for the off-screen actions the Black Samphire team took. It encouraged them to take accountability for the impact they were having on the environment.

While the film is a cautionary fable, its creation serves as a positive statement of what can be achieved on a low-budget film when sustainability measures are implemented throughout the whole filmmaking process.

Black Samphire was directed by Alexander Vanegas Sus and produced with the help of Richard Priseman. The film was executive produced by River Action UK, an independent charity tackling the water pollution crisis. You can watch the trailer for the film here.  

This case study was undertaken with the support of the BFI, awarding funds from the National Lottery, as part of the Sustainable Screen Fund to support all BFI National Lottery awardees in building environmental understanding and action on positive environmental change. Find out more about our partnership with the BFI here.