Sunday, April 19, 2009

"The Greening of Southie": building a green condo building in South Boston

The Greening of Southie” is a documentary about building a green condo building in the “Southie” section of Boston. The film is directed by Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis. The production company is “Wicket Delicate Films” and the distributors appear to be the Sundance Channel. The film was shown at the DC Environmental Film Festival on March 18, 2009 at the National Building Museum. The film has a website that sells the DVD directly, with a different version for home use than for schools. A discount is offered for volume purchases and it appears that the filmmakers are inviting the participation of resellers.

The building at interest is the MaCallen Building, a new residential project in Boston, website here. The building’s owners and construction company management sought a gold energy and emissions ratings from “Leed Certification”. The film accounts for how the building earned green “points”.

The film emphasizes the use of local and recycled materials, such as from local New England quarries, and recycled steel. Most suppliers were from the New England states, going up to Augusta Maine. The building collects rainwater rather than use city water.

The style of filmmaking included a lot of time-lapse photography and shows lots of intermitted steps in the progress of construction. The movie has some engineering diagrams, such as the dual-flush toilets, for features that earn points.

The employees are young, mostly with engineering backgrounds. One female employee actually got a “green” tattoo. There is a lot of manual labor involved, such as in securing the solar roof.

There is discussion of the use of bamboo as a construction material. Toward the end of the film, bamboo floors have to be filled up to see what caused them to buckle. That could cause air particulates to increase, and cause the loss of points. The management winds up on the cusp between “gold” and “silver” certification.

The film opens with a curious logging sequence in the rain forest (the Pando) of Bolivia (east of the Andes) near the Brazilian border. This is a “controlled forest” for construction materials where selective cutting is allowed. Bolivia (despite its history of political instability) is credited as having the largest “certified forest” on the planet. Toward the end of the film the area is shown again, along with other nearby lands that have been over-cut for ranching.

There is also a quick pass-through of Boston’s “big dig.”

Toward the end, there is discussion of the demographics. The condos will sell for up to $2 million and tend to appeal to young single or childless married (or unmarried couple) professionals. The same-sex marriage ruling in the state was not mentioned, but one wondered if that was a “between the lines” reference. Nothing (green) is being built in inner cities for young families with several children.

I was last in Boston in 2002, to meet with a friend (and Boston native) from the film business in Legal Seafoods in the Prudential Center. I remember the day well. He got trapped a while in the Big Dig on the way to meet me. I drove back through the Southie area before getting to I-95.

This 2 minute video is authorized by the sales website for the film.

Trailer - The Greening of Southie from Wicked Delicate Films on Vimeo.

There is a five minute excerpt on YouTube posted by “Project Change”. I don’t know if its connected to the film’s owners.

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