Posts Tagged ‘The Redwoods’

Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 2

October 7th, 2011

Martin Litton: Environmentalist, Conservationist, Sierra Club Director, Bush Pilot, River Guide, Hiker, Writer, Journalist, Visionary and Landscape Photographer

Continued from the blog post, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 1.”

Chiaroscurro, Sun Through Fog, Avenue Of The Giants, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California, copyright 1964 by Philip Hyde. First published in "The Last Redwoods: Photographs And Story Of A Vanishing Scenic Resource," by Francois Leydet with photographs by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton, in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series.

See the photograph larger here: “Avenue Of The Giants, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.”

After seeing Martin Litton’s feature articles in The Los Angeles Times protesting proposed dams in Dinosaur National Monument, David Brower recruited the young journalist to join the Sierra Club and continue the fight against dam building and other wilderness degradation in earnest.

Martin Litton and Philip Hyde made the landscape photographs of Dinosaur National Monument that became the Sierra Club book, This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers with introduction and chapter one by Pulitzer Prize novelist Wallace Stegner. The controversy over the dams in Dinosaur National Monument, along with the first quality images of the area brought home by Philip Hyde and eloquent arguments by Martin Litton in Sierra Club Board Meetings, prodded the Sierra Club Board of Directors to decide to expand the interests of the Sierra Club beyond California and the Sierra Nevada.

The battle over Dinosaur not only made the Sierra Club a national organization, but also brought the cause of conservation national recognition. A number of conservation groups including the Wilderness Society and others formed a coalition of organizations opposing the Dinosaur National Monument dams. The conservation ideals exemplified by visionaries such as Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and John Muir, were combined with new lobbying efforts, grassroots on location campaigning, full-page ads in national newspapers and other methods that became modern environmentalism.

The Dam Builders Reach For The Grand Canyon

“Post-War industrialists in league with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation found their high water mark when they reached for the Grand Canyon,” Philip Hyde explained in a 2004 interview. “World wide citizen action prevented Big Dam Foolishness from getting a foothold in the Grand Canyon. Dam builder’s influence declined from then on.” Today, there is a world-wide movement to remove dams on major rivers, but in the 1950s and 1960s, conservation groups did not yet have much power. David Brower, leader of the new environmental movement and Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and Martin Litton hatched a plan to stop the Grand Canyon dams. They organized a river trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. The river trip participants included the who’s who of the day in landscape photography, geology, ecology and other sciences and disciplines. Martin Litton acted as lead boatman, Francois Leydet joined the trip as a writer, Eliot Porter and Philip Hyde as photographers, David Brower as filmmaker, to mention only a few. Their creative efforts and scientific observations became the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series book, Time And The River Flowing: Grand Canyon. The book went out to every member of Congress and with other written material circled the globe and caused a worldwide outpouring of support for saving the Grand Canyon.

Also on Martin Litton’s list of conservation successes was the making of Redwood National Park. The centerpiece of the redwoods campaign, the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series book The Last Redwoods: Photographs And Story Of A Vanishing Scenic Resource with text by Francois Leydet and photographs again by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton, helped the Sierra Club establish its argument for a Redwood National Park between the California state parks along Redwood Creek where the largest redwoods remained rather than a Redwood National Park proposed by Save The Redwoods League that merely combined existing state parks. Read more on the Redwoods campaign and the making of The Last Redwoods with Martin Litton and Philip Hyde in future blog posts.

Martin Litton was the 185th known person to float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1955 and founded the company Grand Canyon Dories in 1971. He ran commercial river trips using small oar-powered wooden boats originally used for fishing in Oregon and known as drift boats, but adapted by Martin Litton for use in whitewater and renamed Grand Canyon Dories. Martin Litton wrote the introduction to a number of noted books on the Grand Canyon and other environmentally sensitive wilderness areas and national parks, as well as working as managing editor for Sunset Magazine. During his work for Sunset Magazine, Martin Litton used various made up names in print for his photo credits because Sunset Magazine did not want him to actively participate in controversial environmental campaigns.

At Age 94 Martin Litton Is Still Fighting For Redwoods

Though history has not given Martin Litton as much credit as others, at the present age of 94 he continues to work on various environmental campaigns and fly his Cessna 195. He even rowed a Dory through the Grand Canyon at age 90. Martin Litton held a seat on the Sierra Club Board of Directors from 1964 to 1973. He helped found the American Land Conservancy and served on its executive committee for 10 years. In 2005 he ran as a write-in candidate for the Sierra Club Board of Directors, but he did not win the election. His current focus is preventing the logging of Giant Sequoia Redwood Trees in Sequoia National Monument. See an excerpt from the recent film on Martin Litton. He still speaks regularly on conservation, often with outrage at the logging of the Giant Sequoia Trees:

The mission of the Forest Service is to get rid of all the nation’s forests so they can start over. Under the guise of removing hazardous trees, they are taking out all the dead trees that are serving as homes for woodpeckers and owls. Their credo is to remove trees that are dead, dying, or in danger of dying. That’s every tree in the world… I feel sorry for my grandchildren. The only true optimist is a pessimist. You have to realize how bad things are before you can improve them.

Stay tuned for excerpts from my fiery interview of Martin Litton in the next blog post in this series, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 3.” Also in future blog posts read more stories of Philip Hyde and Martin Litton working or traveling together: a river trip up the Klamath River, down the Colorado river, flying over the California Coastal Redwoods, through Grand Canyon National Park.

Notes On “The Redwoods” By Filmmaker Mark Jonathan Harris

December 29th, 2010

Introduction To “Notes On The Redwoods

Fog, Redwood Forest, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California, 1962 by Philip Hyde. The left side of this photograph was the primary promotional cover photograph for the 1968 Academy Award Winning short documentary film, "The Redwoods," written by Mark Jonathan Harris.

The documentary The Redwoods, produced by the Sierra Club and written by Mark Jonathan Harris, was “a major influence in building public and congressional support for the creation of Redwoods National Park.” The film won the Academy Award for Short Documentary in 1968. Writer Mark Jonathan Harris is distinguished professor and head of documentary films at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Besides The Redwoods, he has either directed or wrote several other films that won the Academy Award. The Long Way Home, a film about the period immediately following the Holocaust won the “Oscar” for Best Feature Length Documentary in 1997. Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport was produced for Warner Bros. and also won an Academy Award for Best Feature Length Documentary in 2000. See Mark Jonathan Harris’ short biography on the USC website for more about his other films since 2000 and his many other accomplishments. Today we have the honor of welcoming Mark Jonathan Harris for this guest blog post…

Notes on The Redwoods

By Mark Jonathan Harris, August 2006

Looking back at my early work as a filmmaker forty years later, I see themes and patterns that I didn’t recognize at the time. I grew up Scranton, Pennsylvania, a small coal-mining town in northeastern Pennsylvania, but the first documentaries of any value that I made were both about California, and both were influenced by my youthful impressions of the state.

I first visited California on a summer vacation with my father when I was 13. Two of the obligatory tourist stops left lasting imprints. One was a visit to Paramount where Cecil B. DeMille was shooting The Ten Commandments and I watched hundreds of extras dancing feverishly around the Golden Calf. The other was a trip to Muir Woods where I tried unsuccessfully to capture the towering old-growth redwoods in my box camera. A year or so later, back in Scranton, I discovered John Steinbeck and avidly pored through all his work. If I had read The Grapes of Wrath and In Dubious Battle at a different point in my life, perhaps they wouldn’t have had as strong an impact, but at that impressionable age, Steinbeck’s books opened my eyes to social injustice and the need to fight against it.

Did these early experiences really shape the filmmaker I became? Or do I remember them now because they are congruent with my later history? As storytellers, we all try to find some narrative thread in the often incoherent randomness of our lives. Still, it isn’t surprising to me that the first documentary of any significance that I made, Huelga!, explored the farmworkers’ strike in the grape fields of Delano, California, and that I immediately followed it with The Redwoods, a plea to save the ancient and stately Sequoia Sempervirens.

Both of these films were heavily influenced by the idealism of the Sixties and the social protest movements of the times, the civil rights struggles in the South and the burgeoning environmental movement. But I also see a connection in the two subjects I wasn’t aware of then. Both films reflect the belief that there is something more important than self — whether it be the grandeur of nature or the power of collective action—and that we must all join together to fight for what we believe in.

The Redwoods was a collaboration of three young filmmakers–Trevor Greenwood, Richard Chew, and myself–all working together at King Screen Productions, a three-year-old documentary production company located in Seattle. Trevor had come to King by way of UCLA film school, Richard as a dropout from Harvard Law, and me after a brief stint as a wire service reporter covering crime in Chicago. It was Trevor’s inspiration to make the film and his aesthetic vision that guided us. At UCLA he had studied with Basil Wright and been deeply influenced by the British documentaries of the Thirties and Forties and the Pare Lorentz films made for the Roosevelt administration during the Depression. We all carefully studied The River and tried to achieve the same lyrical blend of sound and imagery.

At that time, the Sierra Club was leading the fight to establish a Redwood National Park and we went to them for financial support for the film. I don’t remember the exact budget anymore, but I doubt that it was more than $30,000. The Sierra Club put up $10,000 and King Screen Productions agreed to cover the remaining costs. Trevor made an initial research trip to Humboldt Country and hiked over the area being considered for the park with Sierra Club president Edgar Wayburn. “Walking through the fog-shrouded trees,” he told us when he returned, “you could actually hear the droplets of dew falling from the foliage and striking the forest floor.”

Shortly afterwards the three of us went off to make the film. Richard was the cinematographer, I took sound, and Trevor shot additional footage with an Arriflex and a spring-wound Bolex that would only run for about 15 seconds. We took a 16mm projector with us and at night would view the rushes in our motel room in Orick.

There were two principal artistic challenges we faced in making the film.  One was the simple difficulty of filming the trees well. The other was making people care about preserving them. Ronald Reagan, after all, had famously remarked, “If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all.”

Filming the trees was technically difficult because of both their size and the excessive contrast between light and shadow in the forest. Since we were making the film for the Sierra Club, we were conscious of the high photographic standards it had set in the coffee table books it published by artists like Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, and Philip Hyde. It took some experimenting for Richard and Trevor to find the best photographic approach. Finally, they settled on shooting the trees in a light fog or from the edge of a forest where sidelight struck the trunks and brought out the texture of the foreground trees. The fog helped to create a sense of mystery and of age–the primeval forest–and when the fog drifted through the trees it made them come alive. I still remember standing on the road with my Nagra in the morning damp and mist, recording  the logging trucks approaching in the distance. We used that sound to good effect in the opening of the film.

Although we wanted the trees to speak for themselves, we knew we also had to have a human voice in the film, a person who could provide us some perspective on what we were seeing. We struggled to find that elusive voice. While Trevor and Richard were filming the trees, I spent much of my time searching for a narrator, interviewing long-time residents and loggers in the area. Although all the interviews were informative, I wasn’t able to find any one individual whose voice seemed strong enough to me to carry the whole film. So I ended up creating a composite narrator based on the comments of the people I had interviewed. In the end, a Seattle actor who had worked as a logger in his youth recorded the narration for the film, adding some of his own phrasings and observations to my text.

When we had edited the film to our satisfaction, we took it to San Francisco to show the board of the Sierra Club. The lights went on after the screening and there was a long, almost interminable silence.  Finally, a woman raised her hand and spoke. “That bird call at the beginning of the film,” she said, “that bird is not indigenous to the area.” We had been caught red-handed using a bird call from a library of sound effects. Outside of that memorable and unexpected comment, I don’t remember much more about that screening except that the Sierra Club was pleased with the film and used it extensively in its lobbying and organizing work to establish a Redwood National Park.

Although none of us had great expectations for the film’s theatrical release, we wanted it to be seen by as many people as possible, so we blew the film up to 35mm to increase our opportunities for distribution. The Academy Award nomination was a great boost in getting theaters to run the film. The Oscar itself was a huge surprise. Charles Champlin and other Los Angeles film critics had picked other documentaries to win. The Oscar ceremony that year was postponed a few days because of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Unfortunately, Richard and I were booked for a flight to Colombia the day before the rescheduled ceremony because we were starting a new documentary about the Peace Corps. Given the prediction of the pundits, we decided not to change our flights. Trevor stayed in L.A. to attend the ceremonies. Richard and I read about the award the day afterwards in El Tiempo, the newspaper in Bogota.   It was two more months before I actually held the statue in my hand.  After spending those months in an impoverished rural village in the Andes, the Oscar seemed even more unreal.

Forty years later, the fight to preserve the few remaining old-growth redwood forests against the greed and short sightedness of corporate logging still goes on. Although a definite accomplishment, the national park that Congress established saved less of the ecosystem than the Sierra Club and other environmental groups had battled for. Logging companies continue to threaten the entire redwood forest ecosystem by clearcutting trees to the edge of park boundaries and destroying streams and wildlife habitats throughout the region. In the late 90s, environmental activists took up the battle again to save more of the remaining 3% of the world’s tallest living trees. Julia Butterfly Hill attracted international publicity by climbing an over 1000-year-old giant redwood and living 180 feet off the ground for two years and eight days until she finally  persuaded the Maxxam Corp. to preserve the tree and a 200 foot buffer zone around it. Other activists continue to employ her tree-climbing tactics.

Richard, Trevor, and I have all gone on to make other films since The Redwoods, but this short documentary remains a source of pride. Not only were we able to use our cinematic skills in the service of a cause we believed in, but we were able to help achieve a concrete result. It is impossible to measure accurately the effect any single film has on public opinion, but the Sierra Club did show The Redwoods to members of Congress, and not too long afterwards a bill to create a Redwood National Park was passed. I’m pleased to have contributed to its establishment. Now my grandsons will be able to experience the same feelings of awe and wonder that I first felt as a child, and continue to feel, whenever I enter these majestic forests.

How To Get The Film

The DVD of The Redwoods can now be purchased through the Phoenix Learning Group, where the film is described as bringing “attention to the impending doom of California’s magnificent redwoods which are being logged at a rate of three million a decade. Through the narration of an old logger, viewers are moved to consider the environmental value of these magnificent trees which date back to the age of the dinosaur.”

“The Redwoods” Contest Follow-Up

December 27th, 2010

The Redwoods Contest Follow-Up And Special Guest Blog Post Preview Announcement

The Original Cover Promo For The Academy Award Winning Short Documentary, “The Redwoods” written by Mark Jonathan Harris and produced for the Sierra Club to help in the campaign for Redwood National Park.

“The Redwoods” Contest And Complications

On November 6, I wrote a blog post called, “November 2010 Digital Print Contest.” Please see the post for details of the unusual contest it launched, but in short if someone could help me find out the name and background of the Academy Award winning documentary film that used Dad’s photograph for its cover promotional image, the first person to do so would win an 11X14 Philip Hyde authorized archival fine art digital print of choice.

Originally I announced the contest at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival and gave the rules in the blog post. I made the blog post at 2:50 pm and we had an unverified winner by 5:13 pm of the same day. Bill Sawalich, photographer and writer, from St. Louis, Missouri correctly identified the name and year of the film. Thank you also to other participants, notably one Vicki Gundrum, who also discovered the correct film just a few hours later, and who provided much good information also to be seen in the comments on the post. Bill Sawalich found and provided contact information for film director and writer, Mark Jonathan Harris, who wrote “The Redwoods.” It was easy to verify that Mark Jonathan Harris’ film, “The Redwoods” was indeed the 1968 Oscar winning documentary made for the Sierra Club to help establish a Redwood National Park.

There was only one hitch: Mark Jonathan Harris’ film, “The Redwoods” did not have my father’s photograph on the cover, at least not currently, 42 years later. I needed to find out if there was another film that used Dad’s photograph, in that case Bill Sawalich would not yet have won the contest, or whether for some reason Dad or I had been mistaken or mixed up and his photograph was not used on a Redwood film at all, in which case I would honor Bill Sawalich as the winner anyway because he found the name and information about the right documentary.

Academy Award Winning Film “The Redwoods” And The Mystery Solved

I contacted Mark Jonathan Harris, still a filmmaker and professor at the USC Film School. Mr. Harris was cordial, helpful and seemed happy to hear from me about the film. Among other things he wrote:

We were of course aware of your father’s photographs of the redwoods when we made our film, but the photograph we used to publicize the film is not the same one you sent me. This photograph, too, could be one of your father’s. Perhaps you will recognize it. It’s 42 years since we made the film and King Screen Productions has been defunct for many years. I’m not even sure who is distributing the film now–it may be Pyramid films–and I don’t know what art work they are using. We did not use any of your father’s photographs in the film. We shot all the footage ourselves on 16mm, but the Sierra Club coffee table books, of which your father’s was one [The Last Redwoods], certainly set the bar for the quality of images we tried to capture.

Mark Jonathan Harris sent me the jpeg of the original film cover. It turns out it is Dad’s photograph. The artwork the current distributor is using has changed from the original. As soon as I opened the jpeg, I saw right away it was the image I remembered as a kid. Apparently I am the one who mixed up the two photographs recently. They have very similar names. The one depicted on the film cover and seen partially in the cover above was, “Fog, Redwood Forest, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park” and the one that I put in the blog post was “Alder, Redwoods, Fog, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.”

Coming Attractions…

Because I asked about the making of the film, Mark Jonathan Harris also sent me his article, “Notes on The Redwoods” that he wrote in 2006 for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when they were showing a retrospective of Oscar winning documentaries. After getting his “Notes on The Redwoods” and seeing how interesting and evocative of the times his writing was, I asked Mr. Harris if he would honor me by allowing his article to be used as a guest blog post on Landscape Photography Blogger. He agreed. Stay tuned for Mark Jonathan Harris’ “Notes on The Redwoods” coming very soon.