Vancouver-based filmmaker Everett Bumstead and his three-member crew produced a documentary detailing the experiences of people who are part of the tree planting industry on Vancouver Island.
Filmed on north Vancouver Island – around Campbell River, Woss and Sayward – where tree planting takes place almost throughout the year of the movie, One Million Trees aired last month on CBC Gem.
The 27-year-old filmmaker was also a tree planter in his early 20s – a job that he says was not only “hugely impactful” in shaping his life, but also one that developed a “high tolerance for pain” and paid off his student loans back in the day.
Environmentally, the experience provided him a realistic understanding of forestry and conservation and “how these things really play out in the real world.”
Coming back to the Island with his camera and crew last year, Bumstead told Black Press that he wanted to show the different nuances surrounding the industry.
The film crew took an Indie-style approach to make this documentary, visiting several planting sites managed by different companies.
“It was a wild experience trying to plan a film around tree-planting conditions,” he said about the chaos that comes with being weather-dependent.
While one part of it looks at the technicalities and intense labour involved in planting trees in rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions, the other part is all about “human experiences.”
“We’ve untapped a very complex world of forestry in this work with a lot of different opinions,” he said
Interviews with tree planters form the crux of the documentary. They talk about the brutal back-breaking labour involved to get anywhere between 10 to 35 cents for each tree planted. On average, a worker plants 1,000 to 4,000 trees every day.
While some of them reflect on the isolating experience, there are others who find their zen and reach a meditative stage by “shutting out the pain and the thorns” and focusing on planting one tree after the other.
Then there’s the crying and the breakdowns, which according to Bumstead is a rite of passage for most tree planters.
“Everybody is expected to cry at least once.”
He too wept, in a planting season right before his sister’s wedding.
Between scenes, there’s also a glimpse into the parties, camaraderie, music and laughter that echo around campfires on late evenings. These campfires are where profound conversations about politics, environment and other reflections take place.
Bumstead recalls his conversations with tree planters who were ex-oil rig workers, law students and climate change deniers among others, before saying “everybody’s experience is vastly different.”
A segment of the film also dives into the gender politics involved in a “mostly male-dominated” tree-planting industry. A female interviewee – who planted around 450,000 trees – reflects on her experience that was marred by a male co-worker’s inappropriate behaviour. And complaining was futile as “he wasn’t getting fired because he planted the most trees.”
The documentary is fast-paced, goes from extreme highs to lows, and touches on a wide range of subjects. But Bumstead likes to look at it as an “adventure story” – a universal adventure that any tree planter goes through in Canada.
The idea of the film dawned on Bumstead after reading the obituary of a co-worker who planted a million trees before he died at 30.
“I was thinking about his life and how he spent a lot of time to plant all those trees,” said Bumstead, adding, “we don’t know what the achievement of planting one million trees looks like.”
And it is this feat that the film chronicles by taking viewers through the intricacies of planting the first tree to presenting some hitherto unseen insights of complex experiences.
The film has entered several film festivals and Everett said they would like to continue working on the subject of forestry and silviculture and hopefully make a series going forward.
He already has an idea for the next film – it might look into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plans to plant two billion trees across Canada over the next decade.