In Pushed Up the Mountain, writer/director Julia Haslett travels around the world in the hopes of opening everyone’s eyes to how necessary the Rhododendron is and the significant role that it plays in nature. For those who don’t know, the plant’s flowers are colorful, bell-shaped, and quite aromatic, while its leaves are generally large and leathery. Throughout the documentary, the plant’s scientific purpose is made clear, but something else, even more delightful, is unearthed. This is the story of the Rhododendron, what it means to the world, and the people trying to protect the plant in the wild.
It seems obvious that a large portion of potential viewers may be instantly turned off by the fact that it’s about a plant and shy away from viewing the film at all. Maybe what lies on the surface is not the most thrilling topic to discuss or watch. But there is something lying beneath the surface that hooks audiences who are looking for it. That something is the idea of simplicity.
The reality is that everyone in this modern age moves full steam ahead all day, every day, but that’s not good for several reasons. Emotionally, mentally, and physically being distracted 24/7 and not giving yourself a chance to experience the small, beautiful things in life is draining. More than anything, that’s what Pushed Up the Mountain is here to express to its viewers.
“…the story of the Rhododendron, what it means to the world, and the people trying to protect the plant in the wild.”
The phrase “wake up and smell the roses” gains new meaning in the film. A series of stories — cultural, medicinal, and romantic — shed light on the beauty that has transcended generations as a result of the Rhododendron. These testimonials present viewers with a new way of looking at the world and absorbing all that it has to offer. Even throughout the more emotional stories, one can find a sense of peace in both body and mind. After just the first few minutes, my mindset on stress changed drastically, turning my day into something zen-like and calm. This is the power that Haslett and the interviewees have on their audience, and it’s remarkable.
With so many people focused on ensuring that this astounding plant doesn’t go extinct, it only seems fair that a documentary is brought into express their sentiments. David Younger, David Chamberlin, Zhou Qiong, Hou Shen, Elaine Tann, and others acutely express their thoughts and the reality of nature’s importance, pulling in viewers so that their message is heard. The interviews are engaging and lively while still stressing the importance of the Rhododendron and the beauty of nature.
While the subject at hand, Rhododendrons, and nature more broadly, seems unappealing and drab, Haslett is able to present this topic in such a gleaming light that nearly everyone can hop aboard the Rhododendron train. The scenery is breathtaking. The many interviews all proclaiming the importance of what the plant has to offer keeps Pushed Up the Mountain flowing smoothly as the narrative grips viewers from start to finish. This is truly the most captivating documentary I’ve seen in a long time.
"…truly the most captivating documentary I’ve seen in a long time."