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‘Bury Me in Redwood Country’ a ‘meditative experience’
Redwood country, say Bainbridge Island filmmakers Benjamin Greené and Benj Cameron, is a study in meditation. There, trees older than man tower hundreds of feet high. Within their branches ecosystems thrive, and below them, dwarfed by their magnitude, humans from the world over attempt to comprehend their near infinite reach.
It is toward that experience of being among the redwoods that the two filmmakers angled their lens for “Bury Me in Redwood Country.” The documentary will show on Bainbridge at 7 p.m. this Sunday, April 11, at Bainbridge Performing Arts.
The idea for “Bury Me in Redwood Country,” explained the duo, was part inspired, part process of elimination. After a road trip through the redwoods, and subsequent pondering on a good topic for a film, they set their sights on Northern California’s famed coastline.
Greené and Cameron befriended one another during high school on the island. Both now 26, they shared an interest in film, and dabbled in technical classes for the art.
“We set out to make an apolitical film,” said Greené. He and Cameron, with a minimal budget of roughly $30,000, talked with people of all types and ideologies in the area, not just the extremes of logger and activist that so often come to mind.
“There’s a lot of different people living different lives in that area,” Cameron added. And anyway, their documentary “is about the trees more than the people.”
Shooting with both a high-def camera and Super 16 (otherwise known as 16 mm film, which they chose for aesthetics), Cameron and Greené spent three different seasons in the redwoods during 2007 and 2008, capturing the essence of the area’s tall, striking giants and the people they came across.
They talked with a retired forester, a 70-year-old man who used to oversee loggers and now runs through the redwoods for exercise; an enthralled German tourist, who couldn’t quite put into English the wonder he felt on a remote trail in the forest; and the oldest member of the Yurok Tribe, a 98-year-old basket weaver from a people whose traditional family homes are made of fallen redwood trees.
“Bury Me in Redwood Country” features scientists, foresters, naturalists and rangers, but above all, it takes time to display the flora of the land. The human experience, Cameron said, is peripheral to that of the trees there, many of them reaching nearly 400 feet into the sky.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the old-growth forest was ripe for harvesting for lumbermen, selling into the booming growth of the West Coast. Clear-cuts were virtually unobstructed until conservation efforts made a dent in the 1920s. By the time the Redwood National Park was created in 1968, nearly 90 percent of the original trees had been logged.
Still, Cameron and Greené found the park full of pristine places. They say the film will touch those who’ve visited the area, as well as those who haven’t.
“It feels somehow removed,” noted Greené, who visited the area again in early 2010. “That was really rewarding, to be able to be in that place.”
“It’s very quiet, mostly very still,” Cameron added.
With a name they say came from “free association,” the two aimed to set their film apart from other documentaries with a high production value. Unlike the notion that documentaries need only carry information, and not a pleasing look, Cameron and Greené put their limited budget to use to make the 63-minute film one of impressive visual quality. They melded an array of diverse shots, many of them dreamlike; an idealized version, one might say, of one of the world’s most wondrous works of nature.
Cameron’s 15-minute documentary “Last Look at Port Blakeley” will run in advance of the showing of “Bury Me in Redwood Country.” That film contains footage — shot by his great grandfather — of one of the last buildings in the mill town burning down. Greené, who made 2006’s post-Hurricane Katrina housing documentary “Have I Got a Witness,” is now working on a film about the Golden Spruce. To learn more about “Bury Me in Redwood Country,” visit www.redwoodsdocumentary.com. WU