From the taiga in Siberia to the primary forests of Romania to the primeval Peruvian jungle: around the world, billions of dollars are made from illegal logging. First-world consumers are happy about low prices at the hardware and furniture stores, but would doubtless be shocked if they knew the origins of these goods. Alexander von Bismarck, great-great-great-nephew of the Iron Chancellor, has been on the timber mafia’s trail for years. As the head of the Environmental Investigation Agency in Washington, DC, he takes to the road tirelessly. He doesn’t shy away from changing his persona and appearance and employing concealed technical means to bring illegal activities to light. He knows the swamp of crime can’t be drained while corrupt politicians and idle authorities remain indifferent to these illegal activities. So for Von Bismarck, an essential part of his work, over and above his detective activities, is raising political and public awareness of the disastrous consequences of forest depletion – as the state of the planet’s “green lung” has long since assumed dramatic proportions.
- Special Mention Focus Competition - Zurich Film Festival
- Ebba Sinzinger
- Michaela Kirst
- Monica Lăzurean-Gorgan
- Attila Boa
- Jakob Bejnarowicz
- Jörg Burger
- Andrea Wagner
- Roland Stöttinger
- Sonic Youth
Director Monica Lăzurean-Gorgan is coming from deep rural Romania, a village in the North of Transylvania, where her grandparents were very religious and hard working people. She writes:
“One day, in the church, the prayers were desperately asking God to save their village. I was already away from the village, a student in Bucharest studying film directing, enjoying life and grasping for a new existence when my mom called and said that the hill near my grandparents’ house is about to fall on all the houses around. That hill was originally covered by an oak forest. But for some years then, the hill was empty because in that area, as in most of rural Romania, the forest is being cut at an unimaginable speed. Eventually my grandparents house was saved, but the house of Adi, my childhood friend, was half destroyed by floods and landslides. Adi is now working in a sawmill, sending logs to a big company that is buying big quantities of wood from Romania and exporting timber to many European countries. This is why I decided to make a film about the legal and illegal cutting and trade of wood. It is is dedicated to my childhood and to my village in the North.”
Director Michaela Kirst, who comes from a small town in West Germany and whose grandfather was a farmer and small forest owner in poor Nether-Bavaria writes:
“It was my grandfather, who owned a tiny farm and some small patches of wood in a poor part of Nether-Bavaria, who brought me to our small family forest every summer and ignited a deep love for trees and the complex life in forests by sharing his knowledge of nature with me. And coming from a catholic household in a small town in West Germany I was naturally infused with the idea of responsibility for gods creation. Which is still influencing my work as a documentary filmmaker: From my early work documentaries like ‘Jesus Loves You’, I realized that my passion as a filmmaker is to explore what drives people to leave their comfort zones and contribute to a greater cause.
During my ten-year stay in NYC I was surprised to witness how civil society can operate in a super competitive environment driven by market forces, where self-promotion and selfoptimization are crucial components of any success. Getting to know our main protagonist Alexander von Bismarck, who – after his parents divorced – grew up sharing his time between Germany and the USA, I became especially interested in how he brought the idea of civic responsibility into this turbo-capitalist setting. While filming a first short documentary about his struggle against the timber cartels in China and Madagascar, I became fascinated by how he leveraged his unique secret agent approach of documenting environmental crimes to successfully lobby policymakers into meaningful changes of legislation. To me, seeing this, was a healthy antidote to the rather repulsive excesses of Western consumerist society spread around the world. While humanity fails on so many levels and the survival of the planet seems more and more at stake, I found in his approach and work a kind of optimism against all odds, which I felt an urge to share with a wider audience."
Director Ebba Sinzinger, who has an urban background, writes:
“I was born in Linz - the Austrian “steel” city Hitler had developed to become his “Führerstadt” and his place to retire. But I spent the summers with my brothers and sisters on a nearby granite mountain in the middle of pine tree woods. We were playing with the moss, picking berries and mushrooms, many mushrooms, because the summers were wet then and the rainy forest embraced us with a gorgeous smell. Intellectually I’ve always been interested in structural violence, in systems that make people suffer or do what they do. This is why I shot my first documentary TREASURES OF ETHIOPIA in the mountains of this war-ridden country in 1991, a couple of months after the communist regime had collapsed and the civil war had ended. On the one side we filmed hard working farmers who meticulously produced genetic diversity of wheat, barley and coffee while their kids were playing on stranded tanks, on the other side multinationals who disregarded the concept of farmers rights, and stole those genetic resources which have a huge impact for Western plant breeding. The Ethiopian farmers did not get any compensation for their work. What they received, if at all, is food aid as if they were nothing but poor victims of circumstances. In a three hour long interview the indian manager of Pioneer Hi-Bred in Addis Abeba disclosed his martial plans to us Europeans who he considered his equals. He bragged on how he will conquer Ethiopian agriculture and knock out the ignorant barbarians. We handed this document over to the new Ethiopian parliament as a tool they could use in “democratic” policy making and nation building. This taught me that while films might not be able to make a change, inconspicuous cut outs can be real treasures if used efficiently."
- WILDART FILM
- FILMTANK GMBH
- 4PROOF FILM
Michaela Kirst worked for many years as a journalist in New York and has headed the Berlin office of Sagafilm since 2011. She realizes documentaries for TV and cinema as director and/or producer. Her films like DISGUSTINGLY HEALTHY (2006), BROWN BABIES – GERMANY'S LOST CHILDREN (2010) or CRIME SCENE RAIN FOREST (2011) have won many awards.
Monica Lăzurean-Gorgan was the delegate producer of Adina Pintili's Golden Bear Winner TOUCH ME NOT (2018). With her newly established company Manifest Film, she produced ACASA, MY HOME (2020), which won an award at Sundance 2020. She also successfully directed A MERE BREATH (2016), which won Best Documentary at LET'S CEE Film Fest and in Sarajevo.
Ebba Sinzinger is a producer, scriptwriter and director. Films she produced and coproduced like BROTHERS OF THE NIGHT (2016) and DOMAINE (2009) by Patric Chiha, THE FORGOTTEN SPACE (2012) by Noël Burch and Allan Secula or PIANOMANIA (2009), have won awards in Berlin, Venice and Locarno. For her directorial work, she received the Upper Austrian Cultural Award for Film in 1997.