The Last Stand: Ancient Redwoods and the Bottom Line
It is rare for one social issue, however controversial, to encapsulate many of the most profound and far-reaching themes of the contemporary world. It is also rare for a documentary film, however incisive and thoughtful, to examine such an issue and successfully illuminate the full scope of its thorny, multifaceted complexities.
“The Last Stand” is such a documentary. And the struggle to save our planet’s few remaining ancient forests is just such an issue — for in it can be found the interrelated questions of global economic forces and bio-diversity, of private property rights and the public good, of species extinction and natural resource management and development.
Along the fog-shrouded coastline of Northern California are the tallest and oldest living beings on earth: the Coastal Redwoods. These giants can live more than 2,000 years, measure a colossal 22 feet in diameter, and reach heights of more than 360 feet. Although this towering species once blanketed the entire Northwest coast of the continent, it has been decimated by decades of relentless logging. Today, fewer than four percent of the pre-historic redwoods remain standing.
The profound human and biological ramifications behind this environmental tragedy are nowhere more evident than in the Headwaters Forest of Humboldt County. A pristine grove of old-growth redwoods in the heart of northern California’s boom-and-bust timber region, the Headwaters is the largest unprotected redwood forest in the world. “The Last Stand” explores the dramatic history of the 15-year battle to save these trees.
This riveting history is one of junk bonds and endangered salmon, car bombs and clear-cuts, corporate takeovers, collusion, corruption, greed, and murder. It is also one of courage and conviction, vision and values. There’s a broad social and historical sweep and an unforgettable cast of characters, including Texan financier and corporate raider Charles Hurwitz; his accomplice, convicted securities manipulator Michael Milken; Daryll Cherney, Earth First! activist and target of a deadly car-bombing campaign; Julia Butterfly Hill, whose two-year tree sit-in gained international attention; and such notable environmentalists as David Brower, Paul Hawken, Fritjof Capra, and David Harris.
Calling for the emergence of a social-ecological literacy, the film goes beyond environmental issues such as deforestation, bio-diversity and sustainability. With intellectual clarity and investigative rigor, it disentangles the web of government policies and corporate agendas that compromise the public interest and threaten our nation’s natural heritage. Through striking testimony from economists, scientists, forest activists, and the Humboldt County residents who have seen their communities and back yards torn apart, “The Last Stand” questions how we as a society will value our relationship to the environment as we enter a new millennium.
“The Last Stand” will provoke spirited discussion in a variety of courses in sociology, the environment, American history and studies, development studies, and law and political science. It was directed by Holiday Phelan and produced by Todd Wagner.