Stand Up, Speak for the Trees: southern Oregon Activism

An interview with local filmmaker Dean Hawn

SFF: We're excited to see an updated version of "Speak for the Trees" at this year's Siskiyou Film Fest.  Can you tell us about how you became involved with this project initially?


DH: It was actually by random chance that I got involved with Speak For The Trees.  I was in Portland having dinner with my friend Matt, who lives in the Little Applegate, and he started telling me about a community effort aimed at stopping an egregious and ultimately illegal logging project that was taking place in his neighborhood.  The timber company in question, Spalding Timber, had violated a number of timber harvest regulations and were forced to halt operations. Turns out the company was illegally siphoning water out of the small, sensitive, local creeks that are home to the rare Siskiyou Salamander and salmon spawning grounds in order to fulfill their dust abatement requirements.  The Jackson County Water Master determined they were violating the rules and the operation shut down.  I found this story really interesting: a group of friends came together to stand up against the destructive saws of industrial logging, and I felt I could use my filmmaking skills to be of service to a friend and ideally help to defend mother earth. I had seen the impact short films have, and the ability they have to raise awareness, and funding.

SFF: Was there a particular moment that inspired you to create a film?

DH: In 2012 I visited the property in the Little Applegate where Spalding had started to log and I was blown away by the devastation.  It looked like a bomb had gone off to me.  Hailing from Tempe, Arizona and then Los Angeles, this was the first time I had stood in a clear cut and it impacted me on a deep level.  And I knew I had to make a film about it, which seemed to be the only way I knew how to help.  I went back to LA , and while digging around a property I was living on and felt gripped by the prospect of helping a defend a hillside in Oregon.  In a dirt pile,  I found an old picture viewer - I think they called it a viewmaster - toy which had circular slides that you could look through and see pictures of your favorite animals and landscapes.  It was a moment when I realized that I had an opportunity to help prevent the Speak for the Trees hillside from turning into the stuff of artifacts.  I wanted the futures pictures of that little applegate hillside to be of a healthy forest instead of a wasteland.

SFF: How would you describe the community involved in forest protection in the Little Applegate valley?

DH: Well, the short version is that the community made me want to live here - and now I do! After living in LA for almost 15 years, I really felt that this beautiful community full of dedicated people here in the Little Applegate,  are like no other.  It was something I didn't find in LA.  There is a different type of connection in Southern Oregon and the people I know here are ready to come out and fight for their backyards. With the Speak for the Trees effort, we had three fundraisers on Yale Creek Road - which were hugely beneficial both financially and for getting feedback on the film.  I am currently working on a new project, with the working title of "The Paper Trail."  I have been developing, researching, and filming for the past two years.   It also addresses logging but takes a wider perspective while continuing to focus on Oregon as its central location.  We are fiscally sponsored through the International Documentary Association and it really nice to have a network of professionals to help us bring this new film to life.

SFF: How do you see your role as a filmmaker in supporting efforts to protect southern Oregon forests today?

DH: I aspire to be a good filmmaker.  I spent a lot of time in edit bays back in LA but found my voice was somewhat silenced working for the studios and wanted more.  I look at filmmaking as a medium through which community efforts can become seen and more widely spread and I hope to continue to meet others who are interested in preserving these amazing places.

SFF: What are you most excited for regarding the upcoming Siskiyou Film Fest?

DH: I really love film festivals and the way they connect people.  With the Siskiyou Film Fest, I am really excited to see other films about local issues and to meet some new people in the area who are into making films.  I am also excited to witness peoples' response to Speak for the Trees.  Audience reaction is the best barometer of what works, and where I can get better.

SFF: What film projects are you most excited about in the near future?

DH: Selfish answer, my film.  I’m working with producer Sheila Laffey who has a long track record of producing environmental films that have sparked change, like Who Bombed Judy Bari?, The Last Stand of the Ballona Wetlands and a long list of others.  She is really good at getting things done and has been a great producer on this project.  Like I said, I have been working on this new film for two years now, to further explore the bigger timber industry problems - so I have been working within my network to fundraise and research and get footage.  As I get deeper into the research, I’m realizing how complex this issue is - the ecology of the forest, the politics, and the social is much more nuanced that I had ever imagined.  I’m determined to create this film because I feel that it is important.  Even if it just affects a few people, there is a multiplier effect which can ripple and ideally, make people question their beliefs.  It's funny how the desire to affect change can completely alter your life and perspective on what is important and how I want to spend my time.