In the film Intelligent Trees we hear words that are usually not associated with trees: friendship, family, mother, feelings. Latest research seems to suggest that the saying “insensitive as a piece of wood” is pure nonsense: trees feel much more than we think.
Most of what we call a forest is not a forest at all: It would be more suitably called “a tree plantation”. We got used to treating trees as a corn field – we plant them and then harvest them when they are ripe. But a tree – the part that we see above ground – is only a tiny fraction of its body; most of its life takes place underground in the root system, which can be up to four times larger than the diameter of the treetop. Densely interweaved roots of different kinds of trees form a huge web coated with mycorrhizal fungi, whose fibres, called hyphae, transfer not only nutrients but also information. The whole thing works like a forest internet.
The film Intelligent Trees gives voice to people such as scientist Suzanne Simard or forester Peter Wohlleben, author of the bestselling Secret Life of Trees, who understand the meaning of Vancouver’s original inhabitants’ saying: Everything lies in unity. A forest is more like a family than a supermarket where we go to get wood. We learn what mother trees are, how trees transfer information from one generation to the next, how they form friendship, whether they can be scared and many other things we would much more expect of representatives of the animal kingdom. Only if we learn to think of the forest in these “human” categories can we change our mindset. Not only about the forest, but also about us: we can’t say that we manage the forest when in fact we just harvest the wood.
Intelligent Trees also presents ways by which it is possible to give forests back their “family” character, but at the same time the amount and quality of wood. Because a damaged family usually produces only uprooted offspring…
You have studied Forestry at the University of British Colombia. What is your colleagues’ reaction when they say “just as a butcher is not an animal keeper, a forester is no forest keeper” in the film? Is your film revolutionary, or do your colleagues agree with the holistic concept of the forest as a system?
Most of them say they loved the film, because it makes science understandable for lay people and seems to be able to transport complex concepts in a simple way. They don’t seem to mind the drastic analogies…. So far we did not have received any negative feedback.
And yes, I do believe that most – if not all – forest scientists would agree that a forest is a very complex system, where so far we have been only able to grasp a fraction of its secrets. I wouldn’t say that our film is revolutionary, but the science of Dr. Suzanne Simard and others in her field does have the potential to revolutionize forestry – if the people in charge agree with the science and the consequences in respect to how forestry is generally done today.
We were intrigued by the concept of “mother trees”. Is it really possible that there could be a kind of intergenerational transfer of information between old and young trees – their progeny?
Well, the research by Dr. Simard and others seems to support this… We are just the filmmakers who, among others, give Dr. Simard and Peter Wohlleben a platform to allow that those intriguing concepts can be spread and heard and hopefully contribute to some changes.
Thoughtless wood mining disrupts and weakens the system of communication between trees. Is it possible to determine the moment after which such a disruption is irreversible?
This is an intriguing question. From what we know, there is no study that has investigated this. As we like to say in science: “There is more research needed….”
You are really good at connecting your interests – you’ve written the screenplay for Libelle, a film about a forest engineer (whose character you played) who discovers a massive environmental conspiracy. Will your next feature film deal with sports so that you can use your experience as a top-level modern pentathlete?
Guilty as charged. Yes, one of our next projects “Bitter Taste” is a thriller where we try to combine fencing, shooting, running, swimming and horse-back riding with mystery and action.
We also have another environmental fiction project in the pipeline, however, where we are looking at a society that is facing the end of fossil fuels and has the chance for either a new beginning in a new world and start the cycle of destruction again or fix the problems in their old one.