It’s difficult to describe a film like Trees That Walk without using adjectives like ‘meditative’, ‘thoughtful’ and ‘intricate’. But this film is so much more than that. Based on an idea from Italian writer Erri De Luca, Trees That Walk is about the life and death of trees, their purpose and importance in the world around us and how the cycle of a tree’s life mirrors, in many ways, the cycle of human existence. That probably sounds like a lot of weighty ideas for a film that runs under an hour, but Trees That Walk knows what it wants to do and wastes zero time as it moves us from the forest to the workshop, from open sea to the concert hall. Director Mattia Colombo takes such a simple concept but uses a broad canvas to help us understand the deep connection between man and nature and how that connection can lead to beautiful and important things. Describing Trees That Walk is difficult but not impossible. I would say it’s as if Terrence Malick decided to make a documentary about trees but enlisted Werner Herzog to co-direct it with him. It’s a lush, gorgeous, unexpected and inspiring piece of cinema. – Billy Ray Brewton, Programmer
Trees That Walk is a documentary based on an idea from the Italian writer Erri De Luca. As De Luca writes, the Gospel of Mark tells the episode of the blind man of Bethsaida. He is brought before a young healer, Jesus, or Yeshu to his people, a man who repairs what nature has broken: he makes the cripple walk again, he heals the paralyzed and the lame, he cures lepers, he restores hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind—even to those who have lived in darkness from birth. In Bethsaida he is asked to intervene in order to free a man from his eternal night. Jesus spits into the lightless sockets; he spreads the saliva, massaging it in. At his touch, the pupils react like flowers to light. Suddenly the blind man now sees a world that before he had learned about only through touching, smelling, tasting, and listening. The first thing he sees is people around him. Before he’d measured their size with his hands; now he can see them, and, for this reason, he proclaims them to be “trees that walk.” There is no nobler or more generous image for the human figure. The body is a tree trunk, the arms are branches, and the legs are roots on the move. It took a man who was blind from birth to see so profoundly. He received, not just the simple gift of sight, but that of vision. The healer himself is shaken: he spits again into the inflamed pair of eyes and corrects the refraction, lest the man be taken for a fool by his contemporaries. This is the only instance where a miracle is revised. Yet the pages of Mark have forever fixed a pronouncement that strikes with the flash of a lightning bolt: “I can see men, trees that walk.” The human race knows little of visions. It does not rise to the level of trees; it stays the size of a bush, fighting for turf. Trees That Walk recounts the life of trees, along with their deep relationship with those people that work hard each day, giving wood a second life. This documentary tells what happens during this second life, when wood becomes boats for sailing, or musical instruments for playing… As a figure, the tree is the opposite of movement: it dies where it’s born. And if it comes from a nursery, it will die where it was planted. But there exists a second life that starts as soon as the sap stops flowing inside its vessels. Such is the life of wood. Its magic is not simply that it burns, that it offers a campfire for warming the humankind—its greatest quality is that it can float. In this way, wood has come to know our mostly liquid world. Wood became a bow, a rudder, an oar—and as a trunk it was hoisted upward to become the mast helping a sail to capture the wind. Forests thus became fleets that explored the geography of the planet while writing all the great romances of the earth. Ulysses, Sindbad, Magellan, Vasco da Gama, Cook, each of these climbed aboard trees that walked the seas. Our documentary was filmed on locations from Trentino in the north of Italy to Puglia in the south; shooting was completed in September, 2013.