Hadwin’s Judgement captures violence against rainforests

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      A documentary by Sasha Snow. Rating unavailable.

      A slew of environmental docs are coming our way as the Paris climate-change conference in late November approaches. Rather than remind us again that we’re all doomed, this haunting entry accesses a deeper and much stranger area of inquiry.

      Most British Columbians will remember when Grant Hadwin felled the venerated golden spruce on Haida Gwaii in 1997, a devastating and perverse act of ecoterrorism that broke the hearts of the Haida people while leaving others to ponder the former forest technician’s sanity. It’s to filmmaker Sasha Snow’s credit that he refuses to pass any judgment of his own on Hadwin, favouring the notion that his subject’s preternatural empathy for the old growth he was increasingly reluctant to destroy came as a visionary transformation as much as any kind of emotional rupture.

      Indeed, among the film’s uniformly captivating talking heads—including John Vaillant, author of the best-selling book The Golden Spruce—a former colleague of Hadwin’s soberly reports on his own epiphany. “Today I heard the trees cry,” he would tell his wife after an orgiastic day of clear-cutting.

      By all accounts, along with his mystical bent, Hadwin was endowed with superhuman survival skills. Snow mingles the on-screen testimony with kinetic, breathtaking scenes of stuntman Douglas Chapman, as Hadwin, inside the rainforest he revered. Sickeningly effective footage of the violence we do to nature completes the picture.

      But this film is no polemic. By framing Hadwin’s eventual disappearance—he was last seen in ’97 paddling north by kayak—with the Haida legend of a man who emerges from the sea “with a warning”, Snow taps into an ancient current where the liminal human experience has a powerful logic of its own. The so-called rational world reared back in horror at Hadwin’s desperate, megalomaniacal, soulful act. But his basic question—why weep for one spruce while slaughtering all the others?—is a challenge that exposes “rationality” as yet another form of delusion.

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