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Forbidden Film

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Issue: 30 Section: Environment New Brunswick Topics: film, forestry

March 24, 2005

Forbidden Film

Multinational corporations and New Brunswick's forests

by Hillary Bain Lindsay


Illustration by Sylvia Nickerson

About three years ago, Kevin Matthews and a friend rented a 4x4 pickup truck and headed North up a logging road. Matthews has worked with forest communities all over the world, from Chile to Costa Rica to Malaysia, but on this day his aim was to discover the true state of the forests in his home province of New Brunswick. What he found confirmed his worst fears, "Though there are bits of the original and beautiful Acadian Forest that still stand, most of it is in a depleted and ruinous state."

Matthews felt that others needed to see what he had witnessed on New Brunswick's remote logging roads. The result is Forbidden Forest, a documentary directed by Matthews who hopes it will provide a starting point "from which people can begin to regain control of their communities and their resources."

The film opens in Helsinki, which is surprising considering it is a documentary about New Brunswick's forests, but this makes sense once the viewer understands that one third of the province's Crown land is controlled by a Finnish multinational. The movie's heroes - Acadian woodlot owner Jean Guy Comeau, and artist and winemaker Francis Wishart - are in Finland to attend the shareholders meeting of UPM---one of the world's largest paper companies. "Both [characters] are in Finland to demand some accountability for the impact the company is having on the people and the environment of New Brunswick," explains Matthews. And so begins the bizarre tale of the 'little guy,' who seeks accountability in a foreign boardroom for the management of the forests in his own backyard.

Five multinational corporations hold the licenses to all of New Brunswick's Crown land, explains David Coon, Policy Director for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB) and a story consultant for Forbidden Forest. Just two of these corporations, the New Brunswick-based Irving Company and the Finnish based UPM-Kymmene, control nearly two thirds of this publicly owned forest. UPM and Irving also process the wood fiber, "When you put them [wood product manufacturing corporations] in charge of managing the forest then it becomes an industrial process like anything else," explains Coon. "The management wants to supply fiber to the mills as cheaply and quickly and simply as possible...regardless of the impacts on employment and local economic development."

The result, according to Coon, is that the forests are not only being cut down at an astonishing rate but have also been "shut down" as a viable way for people to earn a livelihood. "There are far fewer people working in the woods now than there used to be. And those who are working in the woods -operating the machinery - are having a lot of trouble making a reasonable income." As one woodworker in the film puts it, "They're going to cut everything down. The big corporations don't care about us."

"Forbidden Forest shows the global reach and local impact of multinational corporations," says Matthews. "But it also shows how governments are no longer serving the public interest, but rather serving the public up to the corporations. This is part of an ongoing global process of transferring public wealth or assets into private hands."

The fact that the Irving family has a virtual monopoly over the print media in the province, serves to both illustrate and compound the problem of corporate control. "Mainstream media has gotten worse and worse at providing citizens with a window on what's going on," says Coon. As a result, viewers of Forbidden Forest might be surprised to see protests made up almost entirely of middle aged men - hardly the stereotypical tree hugger - demanding fairer working conditions in the woods. They might also be surprised to see clear-cuts devastated by heavy machinery in a province that is reported to have 'some of the best forest management in North America." Then again, maybe they won't be surprised at all.

"I do think that most people know that there is something not right about what is going on out on Crown land." says Matthews. "They may not be able to express it exactly, but I believe they know in their gut there is something wrong."

"People long to hear the truth about what is happening in the world around them," says Matthews. "I think the reason that there has been a growing interest in documentaries is because commercial TV and cinema pump out so much material that is out of touch with reality. Documentaries reflect a reality or truth that is closer to what people live and feel."

Despite the rise in popularity of the documentary, Matthews says that making films like Forbidden Forest is harder than ever, "Since the growth of the 'commercial' broadcast industry it has become harder to make movies or tell stories about the issues that I might find more important to tell, as opposed to making TV content for the sake of the greatest commercial return," explains Matthews who says most documentaries, with the exception of recent films like Fahrenheit 9/11 and Supersize Me are not big money makers. "This year, for example, the National Film Board (NFB), a public institution, has had its budget cut again. Yet, I don't think that Forbidden Forest would ever have been produced without the basic and significant support of the NFB."

Ironically, Matthews fears that it is because of films like Forbidden Forest which rely on government funding, that the NFB continues to have its budget cut, "When you think about the capitalists/industrialists having more influence then ever in Ottawa, who would want someone making movies that exposed the truth about how the public wealth is being transferred to private hands?"

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