47 minutes, 1996, Hi8

Earth First! Journal, Winter 1996
by James Barnes

    “Chip mills make for healthier forests.” - Bill Moody, Alabama State Forester 1970-1993

For those of you unacquainted with Doug Hawes-Davis’ work, his new documentary would be a good place to start. SOUTHBOUND examines the pulp and paper industry’s move into the recovering hardwood forests of the Southeastern U.S.

Hawes-Davis’ technique involves the use of extensive interviews with people involved on all sides of the issue - in this case, hardwood chipping. Short clips from each interview are mixed in order to address a particular question - conversion of native hardwoods to monocrop softwood plantations, for instance - and to juxtapose opposing viewpoints.

In Southbound we see the pain in the faces of local people who perceive their future being ground up and spat out along with the forests. The screaming of machinery and the pans of waste and devastation are presented as a backdrop to the nauseating lies of gray-faced bureaucrats. One of the most moving interviews in the video features an old man whose daughter came home from Colorado and went out with her father to the old swimming hole to find it was completely filled up with sand and gravel, the result of massive clearcutting, road-building and log skidding in the hills above the creek. The old fellow says his daughter cried.

The most repulsive interviews the viewer must endure are with such worthies as a Tennessee Valley Authority functionary who regards the operation of the free market as an inevitable (and profitable) force. Most appallingly, Alabama’s recently retired state forester and winner of the fossil-frontal lobed, nuke-the-forest-for-Jesus-and-Capital, Timber Beast of the Year award, Bill Moody explains, “If we were a monoculture, you think we’d have all those endangered species? They’d be gone!” Doug delights in exposing the clammy, shrunken souls of bureaucrats and letting them hoist them selves by their own petards. If you enjoy inflicting pain on yourself, this video’s for you.

Perhaps the most interesting and articulate interview is with a man who runs a small hardwood sawmill and who understands precisely the consequences of stripping out the forests for the international pulp market and the loss of labor-intensive work in the furniture and cabinetry industries in the Southeast. The forest products industry in this country has a vision of a 100-year continental rotation. At the beginning of this century the East was finished off and the destruction of the Pacific Northwest began in earnest. Now, on the eve of a new century, the old growth in the Northwest is essentially gone, and the hardwoods of the East have regrown. The vision of economic sustainability offered by the industry back East will actually only sustain for 20-30 years before they’ve finished everything off (at a rate of 200 square miles of forest land every three years per mill). Most of the people affected by the coming of the chip mills see this and oppose them (except their cheerleaders in the industry associations and bureaucracies).

The reaction of people in the Southeast is certainly a contrast to the people of Apple Grove, WV, featured in the earlier companion video Green Rolling Hills. In this film the people seemed so bowed by the weight of poverty and industrial ideology that has filled up the Ohio Valley that they cannot imagine a future not filled with stinking smoke and denuded hills. In the southeast the people are clearly against the mills, although their managerial class is, as always, in the pockets of wealth and power. The difference is telling: the ordinary folks speak of family, community, beauty. The managers talk about the market, products, attractive resources and volumes. Southbound makes it evident that the former view must prevail if the eastern forests are not to be destroyed.