Colin Arisman, Elsa Sebastian, Wild Confluence Media | 2021 | 40 min.
2022 Official Selection
“Understory” is a short film that takes us deep into Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest remaining temperate rainforest on the planet. Our guide, Elsa Sebastian, is a young local fisherman who grew up “off-grid” in a remote village surrounded by the vast, ancient forest. When Elsa learns that the U.S. federal government is axing environmental protections for nine million acres of the Tongass, she is driven to action–first fixing up an old sailboat, and then setting sail on a 350-mile expedition along the rainforest’s coast.
Elsa is joined by Dr. Natalie Dawson, a biologist who has spent decades studying Alaska’s wildlife, and artist Mara Menahan. For a month the team documents old-growth trees threatened by logging, witnesses the dark aftermath of clearcuts, visits streams teeming with salmon, and learns about indigenous cultural connections to the Tongass. As Elsa, Natalie, and Mara personally and directly face the devastating impacts of the timber industry on the old growth forest, they struggle to hold onto hope. With the end of their journey comes the realization that saving our last ancient rainforests is more urgent than they could have imagined.
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