The documentary ‘The Forest Maker’ paints the portrait of a pioneer of reforestation | Cinema | DW
“They said he would cultivate entire forests without planting a single tree. That’s how I noticed him and wanted to know more about his work,” says German filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff in his new movie, “The Forest Maker”.
The Oscar winner’s new documentary focuses on Australian agronomist Tony Rinaudo, who in 2018 received the Right Livelihood Award, often referred to as an “alternative Nobel Prize”.
Unlike film adaptations of Schlöndorrf novels, in this film the director directly shares his personal opinions on the important subject.
As the filmmaker told German public broadcaster BR, he felt it was important to publicize Rinaudo’s method for it to be more widely adopted around the world.
Thanks to the agronomist’s approach, which he developed 40 years ago in Niger, a West African country, he manages to grow trees on arid and degraded land.
A scene from ‘The Forest Maker’: Tony Rinaudo at a village meeting
The discovery of an underground forest
Rinaudo works for World Vision, an organization that helps protect children by empowering communities. The mission of the agronomist is to regenerate vegetation in landscapes affected by desertification: in other words, to grow forests and develop fertile soils usable for agriculture.
His method, based on a chance discovery, helps create livelihoods in arid places, such as the Sahel region, where desertification has spread to many areas.
“When land is cleared of vegetation, it becomes bad and less productive. Your ability to grow plants decreases and it’s less profitable. People’s frustrations increase,” Rinaudo told DW in 2019. “So there is a close relationship between land degradation and conflict and land degradation and migration.”
Deforestation is a major cause of vegetation loss.
In Niger, the forest clearings leached the soil to such an extent that young trees could not take root and began to shrink, as Rinaudo realized early in his work there. But then he discovered a network of roots under the ground which produced new seedlings and which only had to be protected from, say, grazing goats.
Natural regeneration is possible
Rinaudo’s concept is based on natural regeneration which must be managed by local farmers. The abbreviation FMNR stands for Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration.
The concept is being applied in more than 20 African countries, giving hope that Rinaudo’s goals – reducing world hunger and mitigating climate change – can indeed be achieved in the future.
For his film on Rinaudo, which will be released on April 5 and will be released in German cinemas two days later, Volker Schlöndorff went to visit the Sahel expert.
In Niger, they were accompanied by an armed escort to protect them from extremists – a stark contrast to when Rinaudo visited villages “so freely”.
Forest regeneration in the Sahel
The film shows how Rinaudo is warmly welcomed during a meeting with the inhabitants, bringing together old and young, men and women of the village. Together, they remember a time before reforestation, when a sandstorm made eating impossible. Now the trees protect them from the problem, as Rinaudo learns at the meeting.
A “humble” everyday hero
Rinaudo is an “everyday hero,” Schlöndorff said in the BR interview, adding that the agronomist helps people understand how “the root systems of the earth, which belonged to the trees that stood everywhere before cut off, can be reactivated like an energy reactor.”
“The beautiful thing about Tony as a hero is that he is a humble hero,” Schlöndorff pointed out. “He’s not a chest-thumping, proud guy, although he would have good reason to be, but he always plays things down and has a great sense of humour.” For Schlöndorff, Rinaudo is therefore “the ideal protagonist”.
Schlöndorff (left) with Tony Rinaudo
Schlöndorff’s film also depicts Rinaudo’s life story. In Australia, he was inspired by the work of British activist Richard St. Barbe Baker of the 1940s.
Rinaudo then started working on reforestation projects in African countries in the early 1980s.
From St. Barbe Baker he learned that “when the forests disappear, so does the water, and so do the fish, wild animals, crops and herds. Fertility is lost. And then all the spirits of the past return quietly, one after another: floods, drought, fire, hunger and pestilence.”
Filming documentaries in the 80s
Although ‘The Forest Maker’ isn’t Schlöndorff’s first documentary, the 83-year-old director is best known for his feature films based on literary works, including his Oscar-winning film adapted from the novel ‘The Tin Drum’ by Günter Grass. . (1979).
Even before this film which told the story of Oskar Matzerath – the little drummer who did not want to grow up -, Schlöndorff made adaptations of books such as “Young Törless” by Robert Musil (1966), the drama “Baal” by Bertolt Brecht (1970) and “The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum” by Heinrich Böll (1975).
Schlöndorff is a political filmmaker, as evidenced by his film based on Heinrich Böll’s novel as well as his projects in the years after the far-left terrorist group Red Army Fraction wreaked havoc in West Germany in the years 1970 and 1980.
“The Forest Maker” and the method of reforestation it depicts is another political film that can inspire forest regeneration work not only in different African countries, says Schlöndorff, but should also be applied in Indonesian rainforests and former collective fields of Brandenburg, around Berlin. . The subject is global.