On the bank of the Yakoun River in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, used to stand a unique tree known by the locals as The Golden Spruce. It had an intriguing genetic mutation that let to its needles to look golden amongst the other green trees surrounding it, which led to generations of indigenous Haida people who lived on the islands giving it a mythic significance and naming it Kiid K’iyaas.
On 20th January 1997, a disillusioned former ‘forest technician’ called Grant Hadwin took some final selfies in front of the sacred tree and then expertly felled it. The focus point of his anger was the seemingly arbitrary protection of the Golden Spruce tree amongst the rest of the doomed rainforest, and the motive behind his ecoterrorism was to draw attention to the ecological injustice and gain support for the protection of the whole forest. Needless to say, his actions didn’t go down well with the locals…
Hadwin’s Judgement tells the story of the divisive dendrologist through interviews with friends and colleagues, interspersed with an actor (Doug Chapman) recreating his actions and providing internal monologues based on Hadwin’s writings. This provides a kind of emotional intensity and connection to the man that a ‘straight-up’ documentary might lack. It also allows for more cinematic set pieces such as when Grant finally cracks and the scene descends into mechanical-crane’s-eye-view of destructive logging and fisheye close-up of Hadwin’s torment.
The introduction includes long, deep focus, plush tracking shots of beautiful rainforests, which forces you to fall in love with the landscape just as Hadwin did, before it goes on to tell the rest of the story. Which is told from both former loggers and Haida natives, who obviously have very different relationships with the forest.
Ultimately the film is a meditation on Anthropocentric and Kincentric philosophies and the struggle between the insatiable perpetual economic growth demanded of Western Capitalism and more spiritual beliefs in reincarnation and the importance of harmony in nature. Not by any means an unprecedented topic for documentarians, but an essential message wrapped in a very human narrative of (mis)judgement.
Hadwin's Judgement by Sasha Snow is playing at Raindance this year, more info here