The Montreal World Film Festival sees many a film, but this year’s edition was, for me, all about The Green Chain — a new mockumentary making its world premiere here in my fair city. While I would surely have gone to see the film regardless, a few factors made the screening all the more exciting and important for me:
- despite convincing arguments that it could technically be considered a business trip, my boss wouldn’t give me the money to attend the private advance screening of The 11th Hour in Vancouver;
- The Green Chain is entirely Canadian and takes place in an unnamed British Columbia town (and I am perpetually in a love affair with the province); and
- my boss and I were invited to the third of three screenings by the filmmaker himself, Mark Leiren-Young.
Leiren-Young is certainly a busy guy, having written in just about every genre one can… journalism, blogs, screenwriting, stage plays, etc. The Green Chain, however, marks his feature film début. Like its creator, the film is a genre-bending journey that can in all truth fit into any of the following categories: character piece, documentary, dramedy, dark comedy, indie, artsy… Oh, forget it! The list is too long! Let me just state for the record that this film is one worth seeing, unless you don’t like examining your own thoughts or being compelled to recognize your personal (inherited?) bias.
The film takes you deep into the longstanding (so much that it’s almost stereotypical) conflict between loggers and environmentalists and sits you face-to-face with opinions from connected individuals you might not have even thought of. The cast includes some of Canada’s most talented actors, most notably August Schellenberg and “Queen of the Indies” Babz Chula (okay, so she was born in New York).
By now you’re probably wondering where my proclamation of “this film will convert you to environmentalism” is, because that’s what we’ve come to expect from similar films. We expect films with an agenda. We rent Michael Moore documentaries not for anticipated surprises on film, but because we want to learn more about his take on, say, health care or gun control in the States, and we know — unless we’re been living under rocks since the mid-’90s — that the films aim to debunk government statements, greenwashing, or (if we’re particularly angry sorts) the right-wing agenda. I fell for such expectations myself before seeing The Green Chain, sat down for a pro-activist film, and left the theatre after the credits surprised and duly impressed!
The Green Chain is not pro-environmentalist, nor is it pro-industry. It wasn’t until Leiren-Young asked me point-blank after the screening which side I thought the film rooted for that I fully realized what, and how much, I took away. As I described how the film’s narrative put me face-to-face (and even behind the eyes) of all sides of the battle, I realized how just how valuable this is. Yes, the film is about the forests, and like the Lorax, it speaks for the trees. But it speaks through seven distinct voices, some of which I’d been unaware of!
As an ardent environmentalist, I clearly see through a certain pair of eyes more often than not. But I’ve always tried to see everyone in the forest sector, for example, as individual human beings, and look for their needs and motives from that point of view… but a distinct lack of logger friends does make this difficult! Leiren-Young has created seven characters so firmly rooted in their beliefs and so willing to fight for what they hold to be truth that one can’t help but really feel for each one and empathize with their situation. When the credits roll, it’s not a question of who’s right — they all are for their different situations.
When The Green Chain becomes available to you, what will you sit down expecting? Do you recognize your bias now, or are you unsure? If you feel you don’t know enough about the forest industry or the environmentalist/logger battle, where do you think you stand?
If you were lucky enough to attend one of the three screenings at the festival, what did you leave the theatre thinking about?