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Forest for the Trees - The Tree Planters cover image

Forest for the Trees - The Tree Planters 2021

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Green Planet Films, PO Box 247, Corte Madera, CA 94976-0247; 415-377-5471
Produced by Rita Leistner
Directed by Rita Leistner
Streaming, 90 mins

College - General Adult
Environmentalism; Filmmaking; Mental health

Date Entered: 05/18/2023

Reviewed by Stephanie A. Diaz, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Penn State - Behrend

Forest for the Trees follows photographer and filmmaker, Rita Leistner, as she documents the grueling work of an eccentric band of tree planters through the forests of British Columbia. The film is a nostalgic return to tree planting for Leistner. Before her career as a war photographer, she spent several years planting and so, we see Leister in front of the camera, reminiscing and expertly shadowing the planters as they nimbly weave through the forest.

The film’s subjects, the tree planters, are a hodgepodge of mostly 20- and 30- somethings that speak a host of languages and originate from a variety of locations. Despite their differences, they all seem to share a hunger for self-exploration and connection through working the land both alone and together. We watch as the planters do back breaking work. In the evenings, they play like wild teens.

Several planters explain how the work pushes their minds and bodies to extremes for little pay and still, many return for multiple seasons. Leistner prompts the subjects to sit with the question: What kind of person would be attracted to work that leaves one blistered, bruised, limping, and emotionally exhausted? Some coping with mental illness and sobriety describe how the work provides an escape from their distracting minds. For others, they are drawn to the work after hearing alluring stories about it from a partner, sibling, or parent. No matter their reason for showing up, the planters agree that the work offers an addictive mental discipline they have yet to find elsewhere.

The film primarily focuses on the people who do reforestation work, their sense of community, and their love of the work. The film’s animations show how to effectively plant tree seedlings, how a planter completes a plot of land, and another briefly illustrates the impressive collective output from the films’ subjects. However, the film does not significantly detail the larger environmental context of reforestation or the impact of the planters’ work.

The film’s tone is gritty yet upbeat. Leistner layers vivid and dramatically lit photos with intimate interviews. She adds minimalist animations and indie folk music that combine to provide an engaging and accessible mix of artistic expression and exemplar documentary storytelling.

2022 Mountain Image Award, Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival; Human Ecology Prize, 2022 Suncine Environmental Film Festival; Audience Favourite Feature, 2022 Victoria Film Festival; Special Jury Prize, Spirit of Activism, Green Film Festival of San Francisco; Audience Award, DocNYC

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