Franz Otto Ultimate Highballer by Adam Humphreys
Franz Otto explores the Zen of Tree-Planting. British Columbia is Franz’s headquarters. Over the course of the film great pains are taken to show the overwhelming myth that surrounds this figure. People elaborate on why he’s special. The few who have worked with him describe him as a greater than life figure. Legends surround the person. Within this bizarre mix of eccentrics, environmentalists, and simple rugged individualists runs a common theme. One should try to be the best at whatever one chooses.
Here the people are outside, far away from what may be considered a ‘normal’ profession. Interviewing current high ballers shows a disdain for the boring office routine. Among the few office workers who were drawn to it is a uniform respect for what is being done. Several, tempted by academia, returns back to complete their mission of planting trees in the wilderness. More than a few of the planters express the notion that it doesn’t matter the level of educational attainment but that there is a certain draw to what is being done out there.
Some of the most moving moments are with Franz Otto. The first glimpse we get is of him instructing Adam to look at that bridge. Despite the work ethic of Franz he appreciates the beauty of nature around him. Environmentalism plays a small role. Watching Franz work in near silence for about two minutes is the highlight of the movie. Here Franz almost belongs to another time, to where people lived out in the countryside content with what the land provides. Other planters show a similar respect for the land. One who finds seeds underneath fallen tree stumps apologizes for stealing from squirrels. As he goes on to talk about if there is something to do it is worth doing well Adam shifts focus. The camera captures the rage and disappointment a young squirrel feels at seeing his hidden seeds being taken away. While the seeds are plunked into a bucket the squirrel screams but remains completely powerless.
Adam creates a beautiful picture of rural life, of being one with nature. Guy lives out in the woods with his dogs. Planters intend on working only a certain part of the years with the rest in India. They all want to experience the fullness of life. Somehow they feel almost singularly alone in the wilderness doing this out of the kindness of their hearts and sheer physical strength.
Strangely shot, with raw footage (multiple times with bugs on the camera) it is a peaceful film. Adam keeps things mellow. Yet the message is clear: to do the best at the thing which brings you the most happiness. Over and over again the interviewees mention how this brings them the greatest joy. Money is unimportant, fame is unimportant, and they live unassuming lives up in the country. In a way they are rebuilding the frontier and watching after it, planting and re-planting as needed. These are the guardians of a nature that we constantly further and further away from. It is good that these sorts of people still exist, watching over a world that takes care of us though we’ll never meet it.