Thursday, June 13, 2024

From paper towels to construction materials, the United States is both the world’s biggest consumer and the world’s biggest producer of wood products. To meet industry demands, 1.5 billion trees are planted annually by hundreds of crews, and in “A Thousand Pines” (2023), directors Noam Osband and Sebastián Díaz Aguirre aim to shine a light on the men who make up those crews. For 237 days, they follow a crew of 12 Mexican tree planters as they traverse the country, planting trees for Superior Forestry, an Arkansas corporation. The documentary begins in the winter, at home in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, as the men get ready to leave for the planting season. Some are starting their first season, while others have been doing this work for years. Raymundo Morales, a foreman on his 20th season, is the main voice of the film, leading his team of planters across the country through the spring and summer. It’s a simple documentary, well-executed, that succeeds at providing insight into the realities of being a migrant worker, but it could’ve painted a fuller picture with more context. It’s a tough watch: The labor is backbreaking, the days are long, and the pay is little. The men’s dedication to their work – the result of their devotion to their families, for whom they go abroad to make money – is inspiring in a heartbreaking kind of way. The film does an excellent job of humanizing its subjects, whom you genuinely feel for, and whom, by the end, you are rooting for. But if it dove as deep into the forestry industry (seemingly a rather evil one) as it does into the men and their families, it could have make a more compelling portrait. There’s a brief section in the middle detailing the history of how these tree-planting companies were founded, and their subsequent shift to non-American labor, but it left me wanting. (Madeleine Aitken) On PBS.