Forest For The Trees


Reviewed by: Mateusz Tarwacki

Forest For The Trees
"There is a simple message from the film – only action can free us from the dark thoughts of hopelessness, inactivity, the impossibility of making a real change."

Planting is more than just new trees. It is a way of life, in opposition to the changing climate, socio-economic conditions and the capitalist economy. It is being outside the system, a kind of hippie commune of people from very different places in the world, who, by joint effort, often undertake a competition and race against time to plant new trees. Something that seems very simple, easy and pleasant turns out to be a struggle not only with the pure matter of earth and stone, but also with oneself and one’s limitations. Rita Leistner, a talented photographer, in her Forest for the Trees, portrays such a community.

The director focuses on human portraits of those facing the enormity of the task, the importance of goals and crossing personal borders. The picture is made not only through the eyes of the photographer, but also from the personal perspective of someone who has experienced these obstacles. Leistner is a planter herself and spent a lot of time among the portrayed community.

Copy picture

The way the narrative is conducted may come as a kind of shock, because in a film devoted to the topic of tree planting, one might rather expect to have the perspective of climate catastrophe. The artist, in contrast, looks through the eyes of the people who do this work with an unusual openness and optimism. The battlefield for new trees is also a personal fight for the heroes to overcome their limitations and – to put it simply – everyday existence. There is a simple message from the film – only action can free us from the dark thoughts of hopelessness, inactivity, the impossibility of making a real change.

The originality of the visual layer of the film is to Leistner’s advantage. One can see the touch of the photographer in the shots cut through by sophisticated photographs of people in the middle of the forest, suddenly freezing the frame and giving the effect of being amidst a battle, building the kind of tension more associated with war journalism.

The director does not make lofty theses, nor does she build a heavy, difficult to understand narrative. Her message is emotional, close to people. But what on the one hand may be an advantage of the film, on the other hand makes it unreal and distancing: a nice and visually attractive picture filled with optimism of people in a specific community, not necessarily available everywhere and for everyone. The lack of direct, though undoubtedly attractive narrative topics, distances the experience of Forest For The Trees from the goal of planting itself – saving forests. Although the anthropocentric perspective in war photography is something effective and necessary, in the fight for the climate people are only part of the bigger picture, not the picture itself.

Reviewed on: 17 Nov 2021
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War photographer Rita Leistner turns her expert lens onto a community of tree planters who overcome grueling conditions and emotional difficulties to bring back the forest one tree at a time.

Director: Rita Leistner

Year: 2021

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: Canada


DOC NYC 2021

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