Arts and Entertainment

An Island filmmaker captures the beauty of ancient trees

Michael Taylor, leading discoverer of tall trees, is dwarfed by a magnificent redwood tree. - Courtesy photo
Michael Taylor, leading discoverer of tall trees, is dwarfed by a magnificent redwood tree.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Redwoods will tower above the audience at Vashon Theatre on Sunday, as a new documentary film about the enormous trees graces the screen.

“Bury Me in Redwood Country” is a feature-length look at “the spiritual aesthetic of the redwood forest landscape,” said filmmaker Benjamin Greené.

“I like the image of small people at the bottom of super-tall trees,” he said. “It’s a metaphor for nature being larger than us.”

The film, Greené’s second, was shot on film on a $30,000 budget by a crew of three that spent months filming and recording interviews and nights camping in the redwood forests of Northern California during each of the four seasons.

“You’re looking at this tall tree, with these parallel branches, and you can see history in this tree,” said Greené, who co-directed the documentary with Bainbridge Island filmmaker Benj Cameron.

The movie de-emphasizes humanity and relies on imagery of the massive trees accompanied by the voices of those who have devoted their lives to or been affected by redwoods, trees that can grow hundreds of feet tall and more than 25 feet in diameter at their largest point.

“We really tried to capture the beauty of the redwoods without having the obvious shots,” Greené said.

Naturalists, conservationists, a canopy scientist, a retired forester and a Native American elder from the Yurok tribe all share their stories of the redwoods, a tree that’s been decimated in the last 200 years because of its value as a building material. The film contains footage shot in national and state parks, including some from secret and coveted groves of trees, Greené said, the locations of which remain secret.

Greené, 25, is a new Islander who moved to Vashon five months ago to live in a yurt. He took an unconventional path to filmmaking: As a neuroscience student at Oberlin College, he made his first documentary, “Have I Got a Witness,” about the housing crisis in post-Katrina New Orleans. He decided a few years later to stop pursuing neuroscience and delve into filmmaking full-time.

“I was soul-searching,” Greené said. “I wrote down 50 film ideas while sitting on a rooftop, and whittled it down to a few I really wanted to make. This seemed like the most immediate project, because it was accessible.”

“Bury Me in Redwood Country” — funded by the directors, a grant, friends, family and one major investor — has won support from Northwest Film Forum and was the opening night film and a prize-winner in Northwest Projections, a film festival in Bellingham.

Greené has applied for a space at the prestigious International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam, and he said he’s feeling optimistic his film will be accepted. He plans to apply to the Sundance Festival as well.

Greené and Cameron will be at Sunday’s showing and plan to hold a question-and-answer session after the screening.

The film has received some critical acclaim as well, with Pickford Film Center program director Michael Falter weighing in on its merits. He called the documentary “a meditative yet thrilling film that lets the trees, and a few select aficionados, tell their own story.”

“A film of startling craftsmanship and design, Bury Me in Redwood Country is destined to go places,” Falter said.

”Bury Me in Redwood Country” will be shown at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16, at Vashon Theatre. Tickets are $10. For more information or to watch a trailer, visit the film’s Web site: www.redwoodsdocumentary.com.

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