47 minutes, 1996, Hi8

The Highlands Voice, December 1995

Southbound documents the quiet move, over the last several years, by multi-national wood products companies from the heavily logged National Forests of the Pacific Northwest to the mostly privately-owned, recovering forests of the southeastern United States. The video examines the controversy surrounding the proliferation of high-capacity chip mills, which are used to convert the diverse hardwood forests of the region to raw wood fiber for export. As these companies race to feed global demand for paper and lumber, citizens are fighting to protect remnants of the once great southern forest.

Some of you may have seen Hawes-Davis’ last video, Green Rolling Hills, reviewed in the Highlands Voice not too many months ago. This video explored the controversy surrounding Parsons and Whittemore Inc’s giant pulp mill proposal for Apple Grove, WV, along the banks of the Ohio.

In Southbound, he uses the same techniques of juxtaposed interviews and footage of the forest, logging, and wood products plants to give viewers an intimate knowledge of this chip mill invasion. When followed by scenes of utter forest devastation (including a few scrawny pine seedlings), the ignorance of Keith Argow’s (President, National Woodland Owners Association) statement, “People really believe in putting the trees back as quickly as they take them out,” is quite obvious.

In Green Rolling Hills, many of the locals, who had not yet experienced large wood using mills, responded to Hawes-Davis’ probing questions with hope and expectation that the new mill would bring prosperity and clean up the woods. In Southbound, the locals have experienced the devastation for several years. Very few of those interviewed felt the mills had a positive impact. Most were very disgusted with what was happening to the forests and jobs in their area. Sawmill owners, local farmers, woodsmen, ecologists were all very outspoken about the tremendous negative impact the chip mills were having.

No one interviewed (except for one Alabama state official) more than reluctantly accepted the mills. Jon Loney, TVA, said that, “Ultimately, the market will decide whether or not there are chip mills in this area.” One logger felt that folks were going along with the vacuuming of the forests because, “Timber’s as high as it’s ever been.”

It’s probably impossible to get a true idea of just how large and devouring these chip mill operations are, but the footage of the plants, the mountains of chips and logs, the incredible grinders pulling two foot diameter trees into their maws is scary enough.

As we don’t have a VCR, I ended up watching Southbound at my neighbor’s house. She’s a good enough person, but I sincerely doubt she’s ever thought about man’s impact on the environment. The video had her complete attention. Towards the end she said she had never realized where all the paper towels, plates and other products she used regularly came from and was visibly uncomfortable with the realizations she’d had on seeing SOUTHBOUND.