See the growth of a documentary

The screening of an islander’s movie will help fund a new

filmmaking effort.

Climbing a 350-foot old-growth redwood tree and gazing out onto the surrounding canopy is bound to engender a little perspective.

“That’s the pivotal moment we have visualized,” budding filmmaker Benj Cameron says.

Cameron and fellow islanders Ben Greené and Matti Freeman are fast developing a vision for a documentary about the redwoods that among other adventures, would take them up into the trees in the Redwood National and State Parks to learn about and share through film the science, history and culture surrounding what they call “these sublime giants.”

Since every big vision requires a little seed money, this weekend at the Historic Lynwood Theatre, Cameron will host a film screening of Greené’s first documentary effort, “Have I Got a Witness.”

That film, which Greené made last year as an Oberlin College student project, depicts the first-person narratives of New Orleans citizens grappling with the housing crisis in their post-Katrina city.

And along with the introduction to Greené’s film, the price of admission will include a discussion of the film that’s yet to be, the one Cameron and Greené hope islanders’ support will help bring to fruition.

“We want to show how humans interact with redwoods,” Cameron said. “And it’s a very multi-faceted interaction that’s changed over time.”

Growing up on Bainbridge, Cameron spent a great deal of time among the trees and developed a love of the forest, in particular the woods of his own Pacific coast.

Yet his environmentalist sensibility grew in concert with an awareness of the importance of his home state’s logging economy and culture.

“Because that’s why we’re here,” Cameron said. “Unfortunately, it’s a very rapacious industry, but even still.”

Cameron and Greené want to begin their work on the film this January by visiting the epicenter of forestry and redwood study, Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif. There they’ll begin laying groundwork for the film by making contacts, conducting initial interviews and getting the lay of the land.

Shooting will continue this summer along a roughly 100-mile strip from Oregon to Northern California. The trio is particularly excited about having gained permission to work throughout Redwood National Forest, notably the hard-to-enter Tall Tree Grove, where the then-tallest redwood in the world was discovered in 1963.

Greené, Cameron and Freeman have also made contact with and hope to work with the Save-the-Redwoods League, an environmental organization which since 1918 has pursued the preservation and replenishment of the California redwood population, and which now targets a science-based conservation strategy.

Yet, Cameron points out, there are many sides to every tale. And to that end, the filmmakers also want to connect with members of the Pacific coast timber industry, and to portray its century-and-a-half year-old symbiosis with the massive trees.

“I do want to make it clear that there is sympathy to the loggers and their history, and their importance in the story,” he said.

Cameron and Greené, both members of Bainbridge High School class of 2002, didn’t get to know each other until Cameron acted in a play by French absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco, directed by Greené.

After they graduated, Cameron did a year at the Evergreen State College, followed by a return to Bainbridge to focus on sculpture and film.

Greené, meanwhile, studied neuroscience at Oberlin and while there, made “Have I Got a Witness,” which Cameron helped edit.

“Witness,” solely focused on its subject’s stories and free of voiceover narrative, was influenced by the filmmaking style of the sometimes-controversial, sometimes-surreal German New Wave filmmaker Werner Herzog.

“We think of him as an example of the potential of documentary filmmaking. Not that we want to emulate him, but the way he makes documentaries is very inspiring,” Cameron said.

The filmmakers also want to take lessons from their own work and are looking at “Have I Got a Witness” – which will also be screened at this spring’s Celluloid Bainbridge Film Festival – in a critical sense, and will try to build that experience into this one.

While Cameron has had a camera in his hand since middle school, the as-yet-untitled redwoods film will represent his first actual directing effort. But just as one young redwood needs another to thrive, he’s already looking at how this filmmaking experience will inform the next one.

“I feel very deeply about wanting to make films,” Cameron said. “Film is so young, and there are so many things that haven’t been articulated. There’s so much potential.”


Screening for green

A special showing of Ben Greené’s “Have I Got a Witness,” with an introduction by Benj Cameron, will take place at noon Dec. 15 at the Lynwood Theatre. An admission price of $10 will go toward their upcoming redwoods documentary film. For information, call 780-0354.

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