A stretch of forest on the border of Lithuania and Russia stands naked and bare, the leaves of the trees have been seared off by the caustic shit that cascades down from the cormorants that call the forest home. These cormorants are stunning birds that were once regionally extinct within the forest, and after having made a resurgence in the area decades ago, their population has swelled to overwhelming levels. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is itself is suffering because of their presence, but because of their once threatened status, the cormorant is a protected species. In solitude, without the cormorants, the forest would protected forest would thrive, but, without the forest, the cormorants would likely have faded into the ever growing annals of extinct animal history.
This is the cruel irony at the centre of Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė’s documentary Acid Forest. The symbiotic relationship between the forest and the birds is one that harms each other. While the birds can call these trees home now, what will happen when the damage their refuse creates causes the entire forest to collapse? Where will they be able to roost and call home then? Will the cormorants then be once again threatened? And, if not, then what is humanities role in ensuring this protected stretch of forest remains viable?
Thanks to a tourist viewpoint in the middle of the forest, we’re presented with the ever opinionated dialogue of tourists visiting this forest, standing in the opening and espousing all manner of tips and directions to whoever will listen about what should be done to save the forest. For some, they dictate to their friend or partner about what they should do, for others, they are alone on the platform lamenting about the devastation caused by these birds. Whether these tourists are aware that their stream of consciousness is being recorded by hidden cameras and microphones, we never know.
What is clear is that there is a grand lack of self-awareness about the analogous relationship of the forest and the cormorants and humanity and the world we live in. The notion of oblivious birds destroying their home, no doubt dooming their future selves while they procreate into oblivion, is terrifyingly no different to the relationship that humanity has with the world. Tourists stand and judge, demanding that for the sake of the forest, these birds should be killed, all the while recognising that in the same breath these birds are protected. It’s almost as if, thanks to the viewing platform, this stretch of the world is a stage, and these tourists are the ever judging audience. No doubt if there were a bucket of rotten fruit and vegetables, they’d be throwing them with glee.
As Acid Forest closes, renegade activists take it upon themselves to ‘save’ the forest by setting off fireworks in the middle of the night, presumably to scare away the birds. After being privy to the tourists dialogue, we can’t help but ask, are these activists doing the right thing? After being presented with sixty minutes of this forest, we’re left to wonder, what deserves to be saved – the forest, or the birds? And, possibly the most pertinent question, should we – humans – step in to ensure one of them reigns victorious?
This is a question that’s rolling around the world, as fence-free zoos are essentially crafted in the wild to keep minute populations of threatened to endangered animals alive. In Australia, the question of whether the population of koalas on Kangaroo Island should be culled or not for the safety and sanctity of the island is one that has been raging on for years. A parliamentary inquiry peers over collated data and in the grandest realisation of man playing God, they sit in a taxpayer funded room and decide the fates of populations of koalas, or western grey kangaroos, or long-nosed fur seals, or little corellas. The word used is ‘overabundance’, but who deems what population of wild animals is correct? And, most importantly, what is the number that tips these populations from being a healthy group to being one that causes irreparable damage to the habitat? This grand irony runs rampant throughout the world, where on mainland Australia, the koala is an endangered species, and the wild population of kangaroos being wildly miscalculated (see the documentary Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story for more information), all the while, we’re happy to clear away precious habitat for endangered creatures just to put a pollution spilling mine in the ground.
If we’re so busy corralling regions in the wild for animals who call said ‘wild’ their home, utilising imaginary boundaries to dictate where these creatures can and cannot live, then at what point do those rules start to get applied to humanity itself? In Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky, and Nicholas de Pencier’s documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, that question is raised through soul crushing imagery of a world in chaos. This is a visual record of humanity in a perpetual state of panic – with concrete seawalls in China being established over decades to ward off the ever increasing sea levels, or the increasingly disappearing heritage and towns in Germany, being consumed by a mammoth land devastating machine that terraforms its path through the endlessly obliviated farmland, all the way to the military secured functionally extinct white rhino, protected day and night by soldiers who attempt to ward off ever greedy poachers who yearn for the last slice of rhino ivory.
The definition of the word ‘Anthropocene’ is:
relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
“we’ve become a major force of nature in this new Anthropocene epoch”
the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
“some geologists argue that the Anthropocene began with the Industrial Revolution”
But, then you have the word ‘Anthropocentric’ – the term that cements the arrogance of mankind, where it suggests that we – the human race – are the central and most important element of existence, especially as opposed to animals and God. Religion plays a major role in the humility of mankind, with its presence playing as a way of reminding those who follow a faith to question what exactly humanity is doing to the world that God gave them. If the lesson of original sin is to remind humanity the weight of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, with their consumption of the forbidden fruit damning the world, and depending on which reading, gave humanity the inclination to sin, the will of ignorance, and the domination of death. What joy! But, surely, with the knowledge of what original sin is, and the desire to appease God and honour the sacrifice that Jesus made, then surely there would be a greater respect given to the world that God delivered us?