Designer and metal artist Amanda Gibson gathers a team of seasoned blacksmiths from the world over to forge a life size stainless steel and copper gum tree within a community traumatised after the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires of 2009. The Blacksmiths' Tree was not without its challenges, but what it became for the people who anticipated its completion is something no one could have imagined. This documentary belongs to a trilogy of films on our platform by Andrew Garton dealing with resilient communities responding to grief, native customary rights and the right to be informed.
Interview with Director/Producer Andrew Garton
Why did you decide to make this trilogy of films? What themes and discontinuities are there between the three films?
With these films I have attempted to cultivate a space in which we may observe ourselves, where we see ourselves in each other, each an ocean in an ocean of drops. They are as much about informing an audience as they are an experience; stories of triumph against innumerable odds via intrigue and curiosity in such a way that we draw and align the viewer to our subject(s), a route to empathy. 'Empathy,' the filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer says, 'is a practice. A practice that's worth practising.'
How did you become involved in filming The Tree Project?
I had been living in Europe and returned to Australia, the day before the Black Saturday fires, with the intention to take up an artist’s residency with the Dunmoochin Foundation in Cottles Bridge. Cottles Bridge was on the fringe of the fires. Had the winds not changed direction, Arthurs Creek, Cottles Bridge and perhaps Hurstbrige would have been afflicted. Tragically though, the fires turned in on Strathewen, King Lake…
I took up the residency seven months later, by which time the Tree Project was well underway. About a year into my residency Amanda Gibson arrived to commence a residency at Dunmoochin too. Amanda is the lead designer and project manager of The Tree Project. Many people had taken an interest in documenting the making of The Blacksmiths' Tree, but no single person had yet to coordinate these efforts and follow the entire story through.
Gradually I began collecting footage others had shot, including a vast community call out for photos and mobile videos that anyone may have taken at any of the numerous workshops and public events The Tree Project had initiated. The response resulted in the short film, Our Tree. By this stage I became part of The Tree Project given full access to every aspect of its making, from the personal to the public.
The film is a response to the devastating 2009 Victorian bushfires involving blacksmiths from 23 different countries and 1000s of locals. How did you decide to focus on the people you ultimately chose?
The people I've focused on throughout the film had themselves been affected by the fires and somewhat changed by the process they underwent in the creation of The Blacksmiths' Tree. They demonstrated how working together on a complex creative project, both from a design and engineering perspective, how all their skills came into play as confidence found and/or restored.
In fact everyone who came into contact with the project could tell a story of their own, of both resilience and friendship, of creative challenge and newly found skills. The film is much less about the Black Saturday Fires and the Blacksmiths' Tree as it is about the people who gathered to create a unique response to deeply personal and communal grieving.
The first shot shows an Australian landscape destroyed by bushfire. When did you begin and end filming?
I picked up my camera in 2011, but others as early as May 2009, within 3 to 4 months of the fires. It is these collective efforts that Forged from Fire stems from.
What type of feedback have you received so far about the film?
At every screening of shorts and trailers I have been present at these films seem to provide audiences with a safe place in which to share their own, often deeply personal Black Saturday story. The grieving continues to this day and so too the healing, which is ongoing for so many. Sharing the process of the making of the film, on social media, has also helped many come to terms with their own grief, particularly as the Blacksmiths' Tree symbolises for them something positive, something resilient that has emerged from the collective tragedy that the community, and by and large, the nation endured.
I'd like to share some of the feedback I've received thus far. I have also produced a three panel video installation created for the 2014 Human Rights Arts and Film Festival. The following comments were sent to me in response to either the short film and the installation, all of which draws from the non-fiction feature Forged from Fire.
“Our Tree - forged from fire is a beautiful film. So much of passion in the making of the tree. The film really brought that out well. Lovely shots of the tree...the end especially was so perfect...it left me wanting more...just like when Ireach the last page of a book I enjoyed. Difficult to explain. It's those shots of the tree at the end.” Gayatri, New Dehli, India, May 2015
“Hi Andrew, I just want to compliment you on the fabulous video you produced on the tree project. I went to Commander's [Amanda Gibson] talk today at the Red Chair and she showed what you'd done, absolutely beautiful!” Kerry, Warrandyte, Victoria, March 2014
“Oh Andrew!!! *sigh* I have just seen your vimeo movie [Our Tree] on FB. *sigh*
AMAzing!!! I cried, each of the 3 times I watched it back to back. Your amazing work is yet another heartfelt creative genius that makes 'The Tree' so so special!
And I am thrilled, delighted, humbled, embarrassed, excited, proud and touched that two of my photos are included...such a powerful experience beyond words! Thank you once again!” Leanne, Hurstbridge, February 2014
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
I have been moved by the stories many audiences have been willing to share on seeing various cuts of the film. It has encouraged me to complete the film at all, or any cost. It many ways the film has taken on a similar role as had the Blacksmiths' Tree itself.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
I don't think anyone can predict or cultivate an audience by design. Platforms such as We Are Moving Stories offer audiences, and prospective buyers and distributors, a wider range of curated stories from the intimate to the sublime. By doing so we may, on an ongoing and quite broad a basis, learn from our differences, our tragedies and triumphs regardless of where we may live, no matter which culture, creed or viewpoints we may have been born into.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message and audience?
I have been told, rather crudely by a small number of film industry professionals, potential funders and supporters that the “Black Saturday” story has been told. Black Saturday was not only about devastation, it was about revival and resilience too.
As such I am looking for individuals and/or organisations that are energised by the unknown; by the unpredictable outcomes, or ripple effects that our films may have. I'm not looking to shape nor cultivate audiences, but I do believe the industry is beginning to realise that they do not know what audiences want, that audiences, when given the capacity to choose from a wide variety of subjects to view, they will continue to surprise us…But the choice must be diverse and where curated, that it be done so with integrity and empathy.
What type of impact would you like this film to have?
Personally I would like people to know that as communities we can respond to tragedies, to grieving in so many different ways, and in doing so find unique means to support each other, to share our stories in safe, comforting and loving spaces. This may come about at a community hall screening, a cinema or at the base of The Blacksmiths' Tree where everyone seems to be drawn to touch its stainless steel trunk.
Lastly, what’s a key question that will help spark a debate about this issue and film?
We learn from Forged from Fire that many will grieve for their entire lives, that one never truly 'gets over it', but that a unique and alchemical response to grieving has so many unintended, and unknown consequences for both the grieving community and the creators themselves. Even so, for example, housing developments in Black Saturday fire affected regions continue to be built with few fire mitigation strategies in place. What does it take to bring diverse communities together to ensure that such tragedies are mitigated, from how we design the townships and homes we live in to the relationship we have with the natural environment?
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
FORGED FROM FIRE
Current Status: Post-production.
Length: 55 mins
Director: Andrew Garton
Looking for (ie buyer, distributor, sales agent, producer, media interest): Producer, post-production funding, distributor
Funders: Regional Arts Victoria, Documentary Australia Foundation
Made in association with: The Tree Project, Australia Blacksmiths Association (Victoria)