Review: Acid Forest
by Kaleem Aftab
- LOCARNO 2018: This fascinating documentary on the cormorants destroying a forest in Lithuania is screening Out of Competition
Director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė is one of the three artists that will represent Lithuania at the Venice Biennale in 2019, and if her documentary Acid Forest, playing Out of Competition at Locarno, is any kind of standard bearer, audiences are in for a treat. Barzdžiukaitė is known in the art world for focusing on the gap between objective and imagined realities in a manner that cuts through anthropocentric ways of thinking. The Lithuanian artist is credited as director, cinematographer and editor on this movie, while her cohort Dovydas Korba is listed as assistant director, sound director, aerial cinematographer and climber: this is no doubt in recognition of the fabulous shots taken from branches in the trees and the mesmerising aerial shots from a bird’s perspective. The cinematography puts audiences right into the birds’ nests and gives us their personal view of the national park.
The great cormorants are a huge problem, as they have taken over a chunk of forest in the UNESCO World Heritage Site and national park the Curonian Spit, which is a thin strip of land in the Baltic Sea, half of which belongs to Lithuania and the other half to Russia. The birds have caused the destruction of part of the forest.
The almost photographic images are like something out of a horror film: trees with no branches, a time lapse where it feels like we are watching from a swinging branch as the clouds sail overhead, and then we see some tourists looking at the destruction from a wooden viewing point. Are the birds watching the humans below, or are the humans watching the birds?
It’s the conversations that take place on this platform between different groups of tourists that are used to relay the history of the area, the theories on why the cormorants’ excrement causes such destruction, the efforts of the European Union to manage the problem and also the fear of what happens when humans interfere with nature. The first bit of dialogue sets all these questions up: “Why have the trees fallen? It’s so strange.”
Strange it may be, but as with the derelict buildings in Detroit, or the destroyed lands surrounding Chernobyl and Fukushima, there is something mesmerising about looking at ruined landscapes. Something is wrong, but this film prods us to wonder about the causes, whilst regaling us with mesmerising cinematic images. At just over 60 minutes, the movie is an odd length for festivals to programme, but it means that the documentary doesn’t outstay its welcome, resulting in a beguiling, beautiful and informative work.
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