Botanist and author Diana Beresford-Kroeger guides us through the forests of Vancouver Island, California, Germany, Japan, and Ireland in Jeff McKay’s documentary Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees. Like many ecological documentaries, the film emphasizes the relationship between trees and other organisms that make up complex forest ecosystems as well as how this ecosystem is connected to the earth’s oceans and atmosphere.
Call of the Forest takes the importance of forests even further than usual, however, by also suggesting a deep chemical relationship between trees, soil, and the physical and mental well-being of humans. Predictably, it culminates in an environmental call-to-action and stresses the need to protect the few ancient forests that remain. Besides featuring gorgeous footage of forests and oceans across the western hemisphere, McKay’s film also boasts a beautiful and moving score.
While the exploration of the chemical impact forests and trees have on the human brain is fascinating stuff, Call of the Forest loses focus in its second half as Beresford-Kroeger begins recounting her life and personal experiences. An emphasis is placed on her thoughts, feelings, and memories rather than on data, facts, statistics, or hard science. It is difficult not to feel as though Beresford-Kroeger is talking down to her audience, and her tendency to interject during interviews with experts is both an annoyance and a distraction.
While the film’s message is important, it fails to inspire. I genuinely appreciated Beresford-Kroeger’s unique philosophy, but she comes across as narcissistic rather than charismatic and engaging. If real environmental change is to happen, people need to be spurred to action by emotion and connection; not by preaching and thinly-veiled self-promotion.
Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees screens at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario (Jackman Hall) on Friday, May 12 and Saturday, May 13. A panel discussion will follow Friday’s screening, and a Q&A with Diana Beresford-Kroeger and Jeff McKay will be included on Saturday.
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