Acid Forest (dir. Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė)

At just over a hour, this brief experimental documentary places you high up in the trees, peering down below as you eavesdrop on a variety of tourists who have come to marvel at this desecrated forest in Lithuania. More than a few individuals marvel that these barren pine trees resemble the eerie aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.

The truth lies in the thousands of cormorant birds who have settled in this region about 20 years ago. Their feces is acidic to the pine trees in which they’ve settled, and over the last two decades their rapid reproduction has expedited this visible destruction. The fisherman are also none too pleased at the cormorants’ fishing prowess, complaining that this large population has infringed on their own livelihood. Their presence and environmental impact presents a compelling dilemma which many of the tourists ponder aloud: Does the government step in and control the population of the birds, or do they protect this species and allow this destruction to continue?

Told entirely through the visitors’ (some more knowledgable than others) interactions with one another, this lack of exposition or voice over narration from a central perspective forces the viewer to piece together the clues of the matter slowly over the course of the lean runtime. We learn that the birds’ feces is not harmful to deciduous trees, and as the pine trees die, an undergrowth of new vegetation and deciduous forestry has begun to sprout underneath. Nature has a way of correcting itself, and as director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė pointed out in the Q&A, the cormorants previously resided in oak trees (which are resistant to their acidic feces), but after man logged many of these trees, the remaining pine trees became their default residence.

This natural course correction reminded me of a post-Chasing Coral discussion at the EarthxFilm Festival in Dallas two years ago. While an alarming number of coral reef are being bleached due to rising ocean temperatures, there is hope that areas of the ocean previously too cold to house coral reefs, will rise to the correct temperature, and allow the world’s population of coral reef to shift to new locations. —Caleb Hammond

The titular Acid Forest, ravaged by the effects of the Cormorant. Image courtesy of AFI Fest.

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