A Will for the Woods uplifts and inspires as it documents the tragic end of Clark Wang.
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
As I pointed out in my coverage last year, Durhams's Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is the place to be (IMO) for documentary film lovers. Reportedly the country's largest festival dedicated to nonfiction film, Full Frame, which ran this year from April 4 – April 7, hosts near round-the-clock showings of more than 100 outstanding docs, new and old, in various downtown Durham venues.
As luck would have it, the festival fell on a beautiful weekend, with blue skies and brisk but still warm-enough-to-be-jacketless temperatures. After a long and mostly gloomy and chilly March and early April, such weather was a welcome change. Nevertheless, I and some 20,000+ other film-goers decided to forego the wonderful outdoor vibes for the dark and crowded auditoriums where the films were shown.
This year's program featured a retrospective of nonfiction work by filmmaker Jessica Yu (whose films include the feature-length Last Call at the Oasis, the Oscar-winning short “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien” and “The Guide,” her new documentary short about sustainability that made its debut here on Saturday) as well as a series built around the theme ”Stories About Stories” curated by filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev (“Fighter,” “My Kid Could Paint That”).
Politics was a common theme with Citizen Koch (directed by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin) about the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision, R.J. Cutler and Greg Finton’s The World According to Dick Cheney (no explanation needed), and Our Nixon (directed by Penny Lane), a candid view of the Nixon White House as seen through archival footage shot by three of his top aides with Super 8 cameras. After Tiller (directed by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson) followed the four remaining U.S. physicians who vow to continue to do late-term abortions in the United States despite the murder of their colleague George Tiller. I also enjoyed Deborah van Dam’s The Baby, a fascinating story of a woman who cannot recall her experiences as a young girl trying to escape the Nazis during World War II.
And there were a large number of films with an environmental theme.
Award for Best Environmental Film
So it is fitting that among the various awards given at the festival is one sponsored by Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment for the best environmental film. As always, the jury for the award* was presented with a number of really fine films this year.** A Will for the Woods, produced and directed by Amy Browne, Jeremy Kaplan, Tony Hale and Brian Wilson, stood out for us.
On one level it was what one might think of as standard “environmental film” fare. A documentary about an environmental movement -- the why's and the where's and the who's. But with a twist: this particular environmental movement is relevant in a profound way to each and every one of us, but I would hazard to guess that very few are aware that it even exists. The environmental movement is the green or natural burial movement. (See also here.)
The film also operates on another -- and in my opinion much deeper -- level. This is a documentary that follows a man confronting the ultimate of life's events: death. When confronted with a life-ending illness, Clark Wang fights tenaciously -- doing everything he can, including subjecting himself to every procedure that holds any promise of prolonging his life. But at the same time he comes to understand that his life and his death are cut from the same cloth and that both are a part of the cycle of life, the natural order of things. From this perspective he approaches his end with dignity and a sense of peace as well as with some humor and even perhaps joy.
He decides that the last rites of his stay here are on earth will be in a way that is part of, contributes to the cycle of life rather than in a way that detracts from our planet's natural cycles. And in so doing, he creates a space for his loved ones to celebrate his life while they mourn his passing. One felt the joy of a new beginning as deeply as the sadness of an ending. There was ample space for laughter along with the tears.
If you have a chance, I would definitely suggest you check out A Will for the Woods. And by the way, you don't have to take my word for it. In addition to winning the Best Environmental Film Award, it won the Full Frame Festival's Audience Award.
*The jury that decided the Nicholas School’s award-winner were:
Hart Bochner, actor, screenwriter, director, producer; Cindy Horn, board member of the Sundance Institute and co-founder and board member of Environmental Media Association; Steve Nemeth, producer, actor, director, and founder of Rhino Films; Rebecca Patton, director and chief operating officer of World Conservation Network; Tom Rankin, director of the Duke Center for Documentary Studies; and Bill Chameides, dean of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, as Jury Convener.
** The full roster of finalists considered for the award were: The Expedition to the End of the World (Ekspeditionen Til Verdens Ende), Maiden Trip, Pablo's Winter (which won the Duke President's Award for best student film), A River Changes Course (which won the Filmmaker Award), and A Will for the Woods.
Full Frame Nicholas School’s Environmental Award Winner 2012
Full Frame Nicholas School’s Environmental Award Winner 2011