by Eugene Hernandez
Julia Hill in her fort among the branches of “Luna”.
Photo Credit: Doug Wolens
For more than 150 days, a twenty-four year old woman has been living in
an ancient redwood tree in Northern California, and for over a month a
documentary filmmaker has been tirelessly capturing the experience and
resulting media circus. Through email updates and a telephone
conversation with indieWIRE on Friday, filmmaker Doug Wolens (“Weed“)
provides a unique look at his in-progress film.
In December, Julia Hill moved into a six foot by eight foot platform
suspended 180 feet in the air, her tree-sit designed to protest the
clear-cutting of redwood trees in the region. While Hill has received
national attention for her actions, she has allowed only one person —
Wolens — the opportunity to document her protest.
While participating in a call-in radio interview to promote the D.I.Y.
release of”Weed” in early April, Wolens became aware of Hill’s sit. Five
days later, unable to shake her story from his mind, he spoke with her
by telephone and the following day, after a two mile hike to the site
and a climbing training session, Wolens ascended the tree to meet her.
The two hit it off, and despite the fact that he remains in debt from
“Weed”, the filmmaker decided to shoot a documentary about Hill.
Working with local vendors, he secured a deal on a camera and sound
package, Wolens’ wife lent him her American Express card so that he
could buy film, and just one week after meeting Hill, Wolens was
shooting his first rolls.
Hill’s perch is nestled within the branches of a tree nicknamed “Luna”,
some 230 miles north of San Francisco in an area of Humbolt County.
“Getting to the tree is no easy task,” Wolens told indieWIRE last week,
“It’s a two mile hike, much of which is…uphill. Then factor in
seventy pounds of gear on my back and carrying the 35 pound camera in my
hands. Thanks to the help of Robert Donald, my sound recordist, we did
get all the gear up to the tree.”
Since he began shooting just over three weeks ago, Wolens has spent six
days with Julia in a tree that he says is over 1,800 years old. The
aggressive environmental activist group Earth First singled out the tree
back in October of last year, and Hill, while not a member of the group,
volunteered to sit atop “Luna.” Having survived a brutal “El Nino”
winter, Hill is still able to speak eloquently about her cause with
journalists, gaining attention from a variety of media outlets,
including Reuters, ABC-TV and a recent article in TIME Magazine that
quoted Wolens. To flesh out the story, the filmmaker has interviewed
representatives from Pacific Lumber and spent a few days conducting “on
the street” interviews with locals.
The base of “Luna” (Doug Wolens notes, “You can
Photo Credit: Doug Wolens
In an email message to indieWIRE recently, Wolens explained his times
with Hill, offering, “She was constantly interviewed on the radio or
planning other interviews with media…she discussed strategy and
scheduled supply runs with her base line support personnel, she spoke at
rallies across the country via cell phone, and personally said hello to
everyone that pilgrimaged to see her and Luna.” He continued, “At the
end of each day we spoke for hours. I never really had to interview
Julia. Instead I filmed her doing what she does.”
Now, as a sign of her increasing influence over the environmental
movement in Northern California, by cell-phone Hill has orchestrated a
demonstration in the region’s famed “Headwaters” area — miles from her
own protest. “She is changing the direction of Earth First and the
environmental movement,” Wolens reveals, “She is now calling the shots
on a much broader level.” Today, thousands are expected to gather and
silently watch as a lumber company demolishes a forest. In contrast to
some of the well-known protests by Earth First that often include chants
and members chaining themselves to trees, Hill has asked the
demonstrators to maintain a mournful silence as they observe the
As late as the middle of last week, with an American Express bill
looming, things were looking bleak for Wolens. But a few days ago
Wolens secured enough money to begin processing his footage. So, after
documenting today’s demonstration in Northern California, Wolens will
travel to New York City to begin editing the 60 rolls of 16mm film, 23
hours of sound, and 5 hours of digital video on a friends’ Media 100 editing
system. While Wolens is piecing together financing, he offers that none
of the funding is coming from environmental organization of the timber
industry. “This is too important a film to carry the stigma of
propaganda,” he wrote in a recent email message.
Reflecting on the past month, Wolens admits that the film has been quite
a challenge. From his role as producer and director, to the strenuous
hike with equipment to and from “Luna”. “I am not a believer that it
was pre-destined,” Wolens explains, “But I will say that for one reason
or another things came my way very easily and I’m very lucky to be in
this position — this is so amazing that I’m able to do this.”
The view from the tree fort at 180 feet above the ground.
Photo Credit: Doug Wolens
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