One Million Trees documentary uncovers the roots of the tree planting community


The locally produced documentary features UVic student Nico Bernardi

one million trees
Photo provided.

Across B.C., tree planters take to the woods every summer to plant seedlings. As the trees begin to take root, bonds also begin forming between the tree planters. In One Million Trees, a new documentary about tree planting, viewers get an in-depth insight into this world. Directed by Everett Bumstead in co-production with CBC, the audience is taken through the ups and downs, and the inevitable changes that tree planting can have on a person.

For anyone who is thinking about trying out their hand in tree planting, or if you’re someone, like myself, who knows nothing about the profession and is interested, this is a captivating documentary to add to your list. Even if you’re someone who is just looking for a well-produced documentary with a killer soundtrack, One Million Trees will check all of your boxes and then some.

The film interviews a few local tree planters like the film’s director Everett Bumstead and Uvic Law student Nico Bernardi. Bumstead and Bernardi are able to share their own experiences and shine a light on the true essence of what it means to be a tree planter and the sense of community that it brings.

“For a lot of these people, it is their identity. So they want it to be shown in the right way and be a part of telling that story,” said Bumstead when discussing how generous and open the planting community was when making the film.

The film first examines the reason why many people get into tree planting in the first place which is that it is a great job for young people looking for seasonal work.

one million trees
Photo provided.

The average tree planter works three months out of the year, planting anywhere between 1 000 to 4 000 trees a day on a piece-rate wage. The more trees you plant, the more money you make. This is not a typical summer job as a tree planter’s office is located in a remote location in northern B.C. or Alberta. Some nights they sleep under the stars and are disconnected from the outside world — a key ingredient for the parties thrown at camp pre-pandemic.

“The mistake that I made the first-time I went planting was going into it with an attitude of making money, seeing this as a job, and then getting out and going back to my regular life”, Bumstead said in an interview with the Martlet. “[What drew me back] was in my first year I didn’t realize how cool these people were and I didn’t embrace the community.”

The rumours about the infamous parties held true for Bumstead but beyond the parties and the money he also found lifelong friends.

“The companies will tell you it’s about making money, and you should be money motivated,” he said. “But the experience is very much about the people and the friends you make.”

As the film progresses, interviewees discuss the reality of tree planting.  It discusses the difficulties of how individuals deal with being in a remote area for long periods of time, how significant the weather can be on your experience, and how attitudes and perspectives can change.

The influence of being surrounded by passionate and inspiring people had a profound effect on Bumstead, “after that first season, tree planting really changed my perspective on a lot of things.”

Tree planting can be physically demanding but through that, sometimes, mental clarity can be found. The physical activity can put your mind into a place that is healing and for some, meditative.

The film celebrates the unique experiences that encompass the tree planting community, but it also reveals the not-so-pretty truths. Tree planting is a hard job. It is dependent on the weather and the extremes that nature can bring. Hygiene can also become a thing of the past. 

Nico Bernardi, describes a rough day at the office: “I ended up getting frostbite into three fingers and was borderline hypothermic.”

To note a riskier side of nature, Bumstead describes one tree planter’s story of luck. 

“[They] got swiped by a bear in the face and chest, and it almost started eating his dog. His friend came by and scared the bear away in the nick of time. This guy walked away from it with basically a scratch on his face as if a cat had scratched him.”

Apart from the compelling story of what it means to be a tree planter, the documentary’s cinematography of Canada’s vast forest landscapes, accompanied by an independent soundtrack, creates an inspiring experience for the audience. Throughout the film there are clever cutbacks, montages, and an abundance of stimulating shots.

This documentary is an outstanding depiction of a tree planter’s life through the unique and creative perspective of Bumstead and his team.

Our interview was ended with words of advice from Bumstead to any first-year tree planters: “Drink water and go to bed early.”