47 minutes, 1996, Hi8

“Answers and Action”
Bloodroot, Winter 1995-96
by Leah Garlotte

SOUTHBOUND, the latest documentary by filmmaker Doug Hawes-Davis, tells a story becoming all too familiar in the Heartwood region. Recovering from the devastation suffered in the late 1800s and earlier this century, the rich, abundant hardwood forests of the Southeast face a new round of threat and injury. After laying waste to the National Forests of the Pacific Northwest, the multinational corporations have turned their attentions eastward, bringing their chip and pulp mills and whole-log export yards. This time around the fodder for their mills is mostly private land, with forests and jobs alike being sent down river and shipped overseas.

Hawes-Davis has brought us a powerful tool for educating and organizing through the voices of people on all sides of the controversy. And although many differing views are expressed, the message is clear. Sawmill owners, naturalists, members of Chambers of Commerce and City Council representatives, ecologists, attorneys, and long-time rural residents all share their stories and fears about the changing face of the southern landscape in recent years. Speaking in a remarkably common voice, the diverse group interviewed in this documentary express dismay, grief, anger, disgust, and determination toward those forces that have returned to the southern forests.

Scenes of skidders dragging trees away from the woods, their huge tires crushing everything in their paths, aerial views of striped hillsides and land webbed with road scars, mountains of wood chips and belching paper mills all show the stark reality of industry’s treatment of the land. One striking segment shows a feller-buncher cruise into a pine stand and methodically and effortlessly snip a tree off at ground level with as much ease as one snips asparagus with kitchen shears. In another scene, huge wedge-like blades plow and rip furrows in the land, followed by another circular blade cutting a trench, followed by a worker with a pinwheel-style planting wheel placing pine seedlings exact distances apart in the gash left by the metal blades. Industrial agriculture is violence; no viewer possessing intelligence and empathy can fail to see the larger picture of human’s subjugation of the Earth in these scenes of forest destruction and corporate takeover.

People in the documentary bear witness to this degradation, and feel its impact in their lives. Speaking with passion, from a depth of emotion as urgent as any victims of disaster, their stories are told. A man describes his daughter’s grief upon finding the family’s childhood swimming hole destroyed by industrial practices upstream. A woman vows to not stand still and let the timber companies destroy what’s left of her heritage. A sawmill owner, business shut down and faced with grim reality, says, “My father passed this business on to me. And I wanted to pass it on to my son. But you look around here now and there’s nothing left to pass on. I’d love to be running this mill right now, today, but with what I’ve seen, I’ll leave it sitting right here until we do something about it. Because I don’t want to be labeled as one of those people who totally cut all the timber and made this into a barren wasteland. I’ll go on with my conscience like it is.”

Not all voices in SOUTHBOUND agree with these sentiments. The Society of American Forests and National Woodland Owners Association representatives claim, and believe, that chip mills lead to a better environment because they lead to economic growth. If that’s not hard enough to hear, Alabama’s ex-State Forester glibly throws out such statements as “Chip mills make for healthier forests,” and, denying the impact of tree plantations, says “Hey, if we were a monoculture, you think we’d have all these endangered species? They’d be gone!” Depending on the mood of the viewer, such absurdity can be either horrifying or hilarious.

Hawes-Davis’ previous film, Green Rolling Hills, tells the story of Apple Grove, West Virginia, where multinational giant Parsons and Whittemore plans to build North America’s largest pulp mill. In Southbound, we have once again bee given a powerful vehicle for education that will hopefully lead to greater protection for southern forests.