Trees group themselves in two, three, or more. That’s just one of the revelations that Peter Wohlleben makes while embarking on his tours of the forests of Germany. He points out that specific fact about trees because he walks into two trees that have grouped themselves, and through him, he’s helping group tours and viewers of The Hidden Life of Trees rethink the idea that trees aren’t sentient beings just because their biology doesn’t resemble that of animals.
The group tours aren’t the only facet of Wohlleben’s job. With a team of humans and, occasionally, drones, he checks forests for tress that suffer from pest infections. One of the marvels of the film is helping viewers sharpen their eyes for these things. He imparts knowledge that is lacking within laymen. Most do not know the difference between sick trees and healthy ones.
There’s a lot of tree footage in Hidden but thankfully, the film doesn’t just spend 80 minutes of its running time capturing tours and drone shots of those beings. It also shows what looks like downtime in Wohlleben’s life. We see him tending to the horses that help him cut and get rid of the trees with pests. Pests aren’t the trees’ only problem. There’s also human intervention, malevolent or otherwise. Even benevolent intervention can destroy a trees health, like planting species of trees in places where they don’t fit.
Documentaries are always about clarity, and this film mostly succeeds in delivering that quality. But there are some times when it feels like it’s going through information that some viewers already know if they listen to Radiolab. It also spoon feeds its other pieces of information to its viewers. It occasionally makes room for an American narrator to explain the different ‘personalities’ of trees that group themselves. That narrator exists here to attract American viewers, but his inclusion just makes the film less cohesive.
One of the film’s many focal points include Germany’s bad policies when it comes to clear cutting. Wohlleben also visits other European countries and Indigenous Turtle Island Territory to compare what they do correctly or otherwise. He’s clear on what is going wrong in Indigenous territory. Indigenous people have more issues going against them than just their forests. But that clarity is lacking during scenes in other European forests.
Speaking of Indigenous territory, there’s a David Suzuki cameo here. This shows the obligatory parts of an environmentalist’s life where they have to tour and do talks in artificial spaces. But those scenes somehow remove my nitpicks from the film. Some German viewers criticized this as self-promotion, which is something I disagree with. Anyway, Suzuki’s cameo shows the intergeneration struggles of being an environmentalist. And that there is more to keeping trees alive involve more work than just not cutting them.