Understory: A Journey Into The Tongass.

In light of Earth Day–a day dedicated to celebrating a place we’re rather fond of–we spoke with Colin Arisman. Colin is the founder of Wild Confluence Media: a mission driven production company that creates documentaries and branded content. Their latest film, Understory, is another notch on their belt of elevating our planet’s most pressing issues. And this time, it’s about protecting the Tongass National Forest. 

Featuring music by Angular Wave Research, Jonathan Barlow, and Garvanza.

Marmoset: For those unaware, tell us about Understory and how it came to be.

Filmmaker: Colin Arisman

Colin: My partner, Elsa Sebastian grew up in Alaska in the heart of the Tongass rainforest. Her family has been engaged in conserving the Tongass for decades. Clearcut logging has chipped away at the ancient forest here over the last 50 years but the timber industry was slowly shrinking. However, the Trump administration led an effort to remove protections for over 9 million acres in an effort to increase logging in the Tongass. Elsa was heartbroken by the news and we wanted to do something meaningful in response. So we made a film. “Understory” is about Elsa and 2 of her close friends, setting sail on a 350 mile expedition through Alaska’s massive Tongass National Forest, exploring how clearcut logging in this coastal rainforest could affect wildlife, local communities and our planet’s climate.

We’ve seen the news and read the articles. What drew you to tell the story of the Tongass National Forest on a larger scale?

The Tongass is such an amazing place and the fight to protect it has been waged for over 50 years. As a director, I love being part of collaborative storytelling efforts and especially telling stories about long term grassroots movements. There are so many environmental issues and crises constantly popping up in our feeds. It feels rare to come across an issue where multiple-generations from the same families in a rural place have been fighting to protect their home. That dedication to fighting for wild spaces feels so powerful to me and I think it has resonated with audiences too. 

How did you choose the music for this documentary? Did you know what you wanted going into production or did it come together in post?

The film is 40 minutes long and the emotional arc of the journey carries viewers through. I needed music that could elicit very specific moods and precise transitions. So we knew early on that we wanted to have a good portion of the film custom scored. We got to work with Aled Roberts who is an extremely talented composer. Additionally, we worked with Marmoset to find certain songs for more anthemic moments. I am a huge fan of Y La Bamba and it felt right to have them close the film and carry the credit roll.  

Zooming out for a second, this isn’t the first time your production company has told a story as important as Understory. Can you unpack for us where your passion or mission comes from? Or in simpler words: why do you do what you do?

I think a lot of us feel that our culture’s relationship with the planet is out of balance. I’ve felt an urgency since I was a little kid to help shift it towards a more regenerative and reciprocal relationship with the natural world. I find connection and meaning in my life from wild places and I guess that felt like the right place to contribute toward making change. So I’ve been dedicated toward using film and storytelling to help advocate for rivers, forests, mountains and intact ecosystems. I’ve worked on a lot of conservation films over the last 10 years – from 2 minute shorts to 40 minute documentaries, in an effort to support nonprofits and help create change around issues that felt important to me personally. 

What’s a story/documentary you’d love to tell one day?

I’m very inspired by the growing number of indigenous guardianship programs growing around the world. Restoring ownership of lands to the cultures who were the traditional stewards and inhabitants is a critical step in reconciliation that recognizes the impacts of settler colonialism and actively works toward healing those traumas and losses. Indigenous cultures carry thousands of years of traditional ecological knowledge around how to tend and care for the wild. I’m so excited to see more and more examples and I’d be thrilled to work in collaboration with indigenous storytellers around this movement. 

Looking ahead, what are you excited about this year? What’s next for you?

Last year, I spent hundreds of hours editing Understory. I’m excited to be off the computer and outside in Alaska this summer. I’m ready to just get to connect with the Tongass without making a film about it!

Lastly, where can people watch Understory? Where’s it screening and how can we follow along?

Understory is currently screening via online online film festivals and events with our partners. We are also excited to be part of some outdoor and drive-in screenings. To catch the film, head to http://www.tongassfilm.com/ – we have a list of all the screenings there and are constantly updating it. We are also happy to help folks organize their own outdoor screenings of the film. You can shoot us an email via the contact form on our site.

Click these links to learn more about Colin, his production company, and his film Understory.

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