Despite a workforce forced into quarantine, Canada will attempt to plant 700 million trees in 2020 – the most ever. With future forests at stake, a young woman journeys into the Canadian bush to endure a grueling and unconventional season of tree planting.
Santiago Bessai is a Canadian filmmaker and recent Master's graduate in Documentary and Ethnographic Film at UCL in London, England. His personal ethnographies dwell on the larger difficulties faced in the age of the Anthropocene.
The film seeks to make visible the sites of ecological destruction that fuel the anthropogenic machine. In a time of isolation and division, these realities persist. If they are to change they must first be understood.
It is our pleasure to interview Santiago Bessai.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
For me it all started on YouTube when I was 12 years old. One of my favourite channels was called Film Riot. Their videos would take Hollywood-style effects and techniques and bring them to life completely DIY. So, I made my first film with a couple friends called Lightsabers and Phasers, and it used methods from the channel to create the VFX.
What genre of filmmaking fascinates you as a filmmaker and why?
I’m 24 now. And, since those early days experimenting with After Effects, I’ve become fascinated by documentary filmmaking. I love being able to bring that technical, cinematic mode of storytelling to the real world. I’m drawn most to the observational mode for that reason, to cast an actual subject through narrative visual style.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker in the film industry?
I think the most challenging thing about being independent is the constant pressure to conform, to abandon the personal practice for the real deal. The money in TV, commercials, union films, even videography is usually much better than in indie film. And, it’s easy to get caught up and forget about your own artistic craft. Sure it’s fun to be on a big set every now and again, but it’s never as fun as being behind the camera, on-site, run and gunning on your latest indie project.
How difficult is it to fund indie films?
In my experience it is incredibly difficult to fund indie films through conventional channels. However, since crowdsourcing and social media campaigning came into the picture this has changed dramatically. Now more than ever filmmaking is cheap, and patrons are widely accessible.
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?
David Fincher – Watching Fight Club for the second time, and seeing the subtle signs around Tyler Durden from the beginning was the first time I saw the brilliance of cinematics at work and it changed my life.
Michelangelo Antonioni – I studied Antonioni rigorously in school and absolutely adore his films. The Eclipse is a personal fave, followed by Red Desert. His use of the landscape and setting is always articulating something in relation to his stories.
Edward Burtynsky – Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is the film that inspired me to make documentaries. Go watch it. Now.
What inspired you to work on "Planted in 2020" and how did the film go into production?
This film was the culmination of my four years of experience as a tree planter in the Canadian Forestry system. After my third season, I was headed to London, England to complete my Masters in documentary. My thought was that I could return next year not as a bush worker but as a documentarian and bring these stories and images to people halfway across the world as part of my thesis project. When the pandemic happened, I didn’t think I would be able to go back, but with patience and having the right connections I was able to return this summer with my camera as I’d planned.
How did you find the cast and the crew of the film? Tell us more about the production of the film and working on the set of the film to create this feature.
The subjects of the film were all my friends and family working in the forest with me. Leading the film with narration is Chloe, my girlfriend of five years, and probably the toughest tree planter I know. I thought as a woman her voice would add a new dimension to the public concept of bush work and hard manual labour. In terms of crew, I was completely solo, and was filming periodically on workdays from May-September.
What do you recommend to other filmmakers regarding the distribution of independent feature films?
Don’t be too quick to sell your film for pennies! I think part of the charm of indie films, and why they go on to do well in national film awards is because they are untampered by the interests of larger companies.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?
I hope to do a follow up feature about the Canadian tree planters and am currently looking for funding for that. Currently I’m in production as the DP on a dark comedy about two depressed pandemic souls, called Fall Awake. Another indie film that should be hitting festivals next fall.
Why do you make films?
First and foremost, I make films for fun.