SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Do yourself a favor and find a large screen and see Salomé Jashi’s Taming The Garden. The story behind “the garden” is pretty incredible and asks so many questions. But the visual splendor is lost by watching it on an iPad.
The general plot is a wealthy man, who remains anonymous, is buying majestic trees from around the world and bringing them to his garden, like the Collector from Guardians of the Galaxy. The garden itself is featured only in the final minutes of the film. The documentary’s story is the impact his collecting is having on the owners of the trees, the local community, and the environment. It presents the facts without bias, both pro and con, and allows you to judge for yourself.
The film opens with a large crew of men preparing to transport a 15-story tree from a small landowner’s home. The tree’s vast root system means the men have to dig 30 meters around the tree and go about 10 feet deep. You may think the process of moving an enormous tree is complicated, but it’s far worse, and the film is not just about moving trees.
“…a wealthy man, who remains anonymous, is buying majestic trees from around the world and bringing them to his garden…”
The camera beautifully captures the tree’s removal and its haul to the nearby coast, and the barge ride across the Black Sea (sort of the inverse Fitzcarraldo) is punctuated by conversations among the workers, homeowners, and neighbors discussing these odd purchases by an unknown billionaire. There are certainly positives and negatives. In one town, road upgrades were implemented and paid for by the billionaire. At the same time, hundreds of trees had to be cut down to build those roads for this one-time project. Some owners were glad to get rid of those trees because the roots were growing too big, and the leaves and seeds were a chore to clean. Others soon experienced buyer’s remorse as the land left behind is now an empty lot.
The documentary features no narration. It merely presents the footage Jashi captured while splicing in conversations between ordinary people, as previously described. Even the workers wonder who is paying them and why this mystery person is going through so much trouble buying trees. Is this guy a hero or villain? There’s no historian, environmentalists, or experts. It’s the everyday people directly affected (whether good or bad) by the situation, which offers more insight than any university educator could provide.
Back to my opening comments. Taming the Garden is absolutely gorgeous. The film’s publicity still features a singular barge carrying a majestic tree across the sea, and this image is breathtaking. This film needs to be seen on a big screen, IMAX if possible. Yes, I might be overstating it, but some segments occur in the middle of the night and darkness, and my television was pretty much a blank screen for a few minutes.
I have so many questions about this anonymous billionaire, and that’s my favorite aspect of documentaries. Don’t tell me what to think. Present a thesis, provide facts and theories from both sides and let’s have a conversation. The tree huggers of old would chain themselves to 100-year-old trees rather than cut them down for a parking lot and firewood. Taming the Garden presents a man willing to save those trees… for his museum. The anonymous benefactor(?) is improving a town’s infrastructure and appears generous with his wallet, but is he doing the right thing? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not.
Taming the Garden screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…present a thesis, provide facts and theories from both sides and let's have a conversation."