Innovative Bob Brown documentary is a call of defiance for our ancient trees  

Laurence Billiet and Rachael Antony, Documentary-makers Fri, 14 Apr 2023

Australia is one of the few places in the world that has Gondwana-era forest and is home to some of the planet’s tallest trees. We are one of the only countries that still has “primary” forests – in Europe, for instance, only fragments remain.  

Forests are crucial for air quality, water catchments, habitat and as carbon sinks that are essential to combat climate change. And yet, Australia also sports one of the highest rates of deforestation in the developed world, with Queensland clearing the equivalent of 1,000 rugby fields a day

The Giants documentary is an attempt to create something beautiful out of the ashes of the 2020 bushfires that decimated Australia’s ancient native forests and the ecosystems within them. We began making this film because we were horrified that our precious ancient forests – already decimated by the fires – were still being logged for wood pulp and turned into toilet paper, despite so many native species that are dependent on them being on the brink of extinction.  

The film explores the intertwined fates of trees and humans in a cinematic portrait of environmental folk hero and human rights activist Bob Brown, who took green politics to the centre of power. From seedling to forest elder, the film interweaves Bob’s story with the life cycle of the ancient trees he has spent his life fighting for. 

Bob Brown is a giant of Australian environmentalism who has dedicated more than 50 years to activism for Australia’s forests. He is a rare being who can connect across generations – from the baby boomers to the young climate school strikers. We wanted to learn from Bob’s lifetime and see how his experiences can help us address the environmental challenges of our time. 

We want this film to speak for the trees. We were inspired by Peter Dombrovskis’ iconic photograph of Rock Island Bend on the Franklin River that helped mobilise Australians into voting to save the river. We want the audience to enter “tree world” so they see trees as active, living beings, and show some of the invisible processes that take place in forest communities.  

We worked with Tree Projects to rig cameras high up in the canopy for a bird’s eye view of the forest. We also partnered with University of Tasmania’s TerraLuma to 3D scan our three different trees (eucalyptus regnans in the Styx Valley, a Huon pine in Southwest forest and a myrtle beech in the Tarkine rainforest). French animator Alex Le Guillou then transformed this data into haunting point-cloud animation.  

The story of Bob’s life tells us that everybody can contribute something to protect our planet and combat climate change – The Giants is our contribution. It’s a story of natural beauty and wonder, of caring and defiance, and of optimism in the face of adversity.  

In the course of making this film, we fell in love with these extraordinary trees – we hope you do too. 

THE GIANTS releases in Australian cinemas from 20 April, with the film-makers participating in a special online Q&A with Documentary Australia, The Giants: Talking the Tarkine, from 12.30pm AEST on Thursday 20 April. Register for the Q&A via Humanitix and find a cinema screening near you.