Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
The impact of Climate Change is the focus of the latest Noble Prize short released by National Geographic as part of their mini-series of films by director Orlando von Einsiedel that focus on the work of prize recipients. The Lost Forest follows a group of scientists, led by Julian Baliss, as they set out to explore an area on the top of Mount Lico, untouched by man, in Mozambique and whose secrets may yield valuable comparative information for saving the planet.
Despite its rather dramatic title, this is the least convincing of the documentaries released so far and anyone expecting a King Kong style adventure will be fairly disappointed. Unlike the practical focus of the other stories that looked at the work of mine sweepers and blast injury care, this scientific story barely charts the process of travelling to an untouched region and fails to reach any significant conclusions by the end of its 20-minute runtime.
Instead there are lots of fairly self-conscious to-camera interviews and voiceovers that speak repeatedly of the looming threat of Climate Change and the international team’s obsession with finding new species of anything. There is no doubting the value of this study, the expertise of the assembled crew or the possibilities of this exciting new environment, but von Einsiedel’s film barely captures the painstaking and rigorous process of recording evidence and has nothing whatsoever to say about interpreting the results later.
Maybe it was too soon to make this film before the process of analysis and publication has been possible, but it leaves the viewer with an incomplete sense of what happened and why it was made at all. A brief afterword notes that several new species of were discovered but how this was determined and what that means for our understanding of Climate Change is never resolved. Neither does the documentary mention the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that actually won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 and is therefore the basis of this short rather than team we see on screen.
The structure of von Einsiedel’s piece feels too lightweight; we see untrained men having to climb the sheer cliff-face of Mount Lico and the camera pulls out to create action movie scale or cuts to Baliss’ headcam for added peril, while Patrick Jonsson’s score adds drama. But we never really understand how the researchers prepared for the physical effects of reaching The Lost Forest in the first place.
Baliss’ story is also framed by a cheesy section based in Wales playing with his young daughter, a theme that recurs throughout the piece with calls home and questions about the sort of world she will grow up in. It is all rather clichéd and misty-eyed without giving the viewer any insight into the strain of being away from families for so long or the need to run those risks for the sake of scientific endeavour.
William Hadley’s camerawork is lovely, some beautiful shots from the foot of the misty mountain open the film while later the high definition focus on the creatures and plants of the forest including a canopy of trees, spiders and butterflies is gorgeous to look at. But this is a story with no beginning and no end; the viewer is left in the middle of the forest with no answers to the questions it poses. Finding ways to reduce the impact of Climate Change is vital of course and while The Lost Forest may have many secrets to yield to scientists, it hasn’t revealed any to the audience.