The Story of the Film
The Tree Lover is a story of life in a faraway place. The film follows the narrator on a journey through the forests, where she reflects on the meaning she finds in her connection to trees. The image shows the symbolic camera in action during a mock interview exercise, this helped to improve my understanding of creating video with participants, and helped in the formation of my concept for the film. The essay below is a reflexive analysis of the film's production, and an exploration of the various works which inspired the project.
The making of The Tree Lover
A reflective essay
This essay will explore the making of The Tree Lover, explain the techniques used in its creation, and reference some of the visual anthropologists who influenced my vision for the film, and key pictures which provided inspiration for the project.
Taking my queue from life-story documentaries, I wanted to use an interview audio track as narrative with a moving film representation of the individual subjects. This would enable movement and emotion as well as context to be presented to the viewer, who might otherwise lose interest in a straightforward interview documentary. Rather than attempt to portray actual events, or cling to any claim to objectivity, I wanted to use video, audio, and poetry, to make a filmic argument, and this subjective approach was inspired by the cinema of Robert Gardner, which is analysed in a book of the same name (Taylor and Barbash 2007). Gardner’s Dead Birds (1963) uses the director’s ‘voice-of-God’ style narrative to tell a story. I would employ a less authoritative, reflective-style commentary, voiced by the main character of my film. As it turned out, I would film the majority of the footage in Blean Woods, in relation to the tree lover, who enjoyed walking amongst the trees and interacting with them. I took inspiration from David MacDougall’s Schoolscapes (2007), which involved long single shots to depict the tranquillity and slow pace of life, and the stillness and calm of the environs. I would use some still shots, and one long single shot for the closing sequence, but I did not want to bore my audience with monotony. Many of my colleagues had previously slated Schoolscapes (MacDougall 2007) for its repetitive and minimal style, and I took this into account when considering how to adapt the style to my film.
The interview was recorded using a professional audio recorder, and would provide the story for the film. Edited to create a narrative style voice-over, this prompts much of the camera action and contains much of the message carried in the film. The remainder of the soundtrack is made up of sounds from the forest, or rather Blean Woods. The sound is layered to provide a melodic background for the narrative. I took inspiration from Steven Feld, who explains his theory of layered sound in an interview (Feld and Brenneis 2004). By using edited layers of sound, he claims to be able to create the most accurate representation of actual sonics experienced in real life. I would combine this theory with Gardner’s subjective style (Taylor and Barbash 2007), to create the audio that I wanted to use, to reflect being in Blean Woods, and express the meaning of the film. I saw this meaning as being related to the communion that the ‘tree-lover’ finds with the trees. Birdsong is the sound of the forest, and so it would be the music for my film. There are also woodland noises such as scrunching sounds, footsteps, animal and human noises, aeroplanes, car engines, and more. The audio from the video footage would be removed from the film, as this was of a lower quality. I would film and record sound in the forest on alternate days. Though during interview, both could be done simultaneously, the video footage from interview would not be used.
The two film-makers who have inspired me the most are Trinh T. Minh-ha, whose Reassemblage (1983) is a typically critical account of anthropology and Western academia; and Castaing-Taylor and Paravel, whose Leviathan (2012) asks questions of humanity as a whole. Rather than attempt to emulate these ground-breaking and avant-garde works, I would aim to create something which was simple, and hopefully beautiful. My film can be seen as a critique of Japanese society, and connects with issues around humanity as a species and our interaction with other entities, but it is not uncomfortable to watch, and rather than dragging the viewer into the picture, it is a gentle and pleasant journey. I have done homage to my idols, through poetic cinematography, which depicts the many perspectives from which life can be experienced, as in Reassemblage (1983); and close up shots of tree bark, which along with layered audio, give a tangible sense of the forest, a technique used to depict the ocean in Leviathan (2012). These techniques have helped to add variety to my footage, which was in danger of being a rather repetitive picture.
If I was to make the film again, I think that I would take more time to meet and discuss the film’s creation with the contributors, and enlist the aid of many more of my colleagues in terms of advice, guidance, and feedback at various stages. Much of this was asked for and given, and this was by no means something that was lacking either in my planning or the execution of the project. But the more time one has to discuss the film in the early stages, the better informed the team. I found that after filming and recording I was still explaining the film in terms of theory, argument, style, and story. I should have done this much earlier. The filming and interviews were a joy to take part in, and it was a highly enjoyable experience. I particularly enjoyed discussing my work with my fellow film-makers.
The final film is the result of many days of hard work, and would not have been possible without the generosity and inspirational story of the narrator.
Feld, S. and Brenneis, D. (2004). Doing anthropology in sound. American Ethnologist 31:461–474.
Gardner, R. (1963). Dead Birds. [DVD]. Harvard: Peabody Museum.
Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel (2012). Leviathan. [DVD]. Harvard: Sensory Ethnography Lab.
MacDougall, D. (2007). SchoolScapes. [DVD]. Berkeley: Berkeley Media LLC.
Minh-ha, T.T. (1983). Reassemblage: From the Firelight to the Screen. [DVD].
Taylor, L. and Barbash, I. eds. (2007). The Cinema of Robert Gardner. Oxford: Berg Publishers.