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Plant Focus

Quercus macdougallii
A rare oak endemic to the Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca

A Documentary Film about an Oak and Its Universe

Adapted from an article by Chrystelle Carroy posted February 21, 2022 on the website Forestopic.

It's not quite a documentary, nor really a fictional plot. Le Chêne is publicized as an “adventure film” for the general public. This cinematographic production invites us to take a closer look at an oak tree, its network of roots with their mycorrhizae, the interlacing of the bark, right to the tips of the leaves. Birds and insects, squirrels, field mice, and other mammals lead their lives there, reacting to the rhythm of days and nights, according to the seasons.

Co-directors Laurent Charbonnier and Michel Seydoux have combined their respective fields of expertise, the animal world for the first, the production of fiction for the second. Michel Seydoux defines the style: “We chose to tell a naturalistic story, while letting the public wander in their own imagination, without voiceover narration.”

Some will see the main character in the oak tree. Or is it the acorn? Coveted by the squirrel, scattered by the jay, providing spawning ground for the oak weevil, serving as food of choice for many quadrupeds, the acorn is also the fruit that gives birth to a future tree.

The forest as sight and sound

The 210-year-old oak, selected after an audition process, is 900 meters from a house belonging to Laurent Charbonnier, in Sologne, France a proximity conducive to encountering nature and biodiversity .The 80-minute feature film involved editing some 350 hours of images, shot from hidden mounts where the teams tried to be forgotten by the fauna, and even from drones to get an overall view to the forest ecosystem or to evoke the flight of a bird. Computer-generated images suggest the mycelia unfolding in the soil.

Between rustles, crackles, and other birdsongs, it is also a sound universe that is orchestrated on the screen. Michel Seydoux talks about his composition: “When Laurent Charbonnier films a blue tit, sound engineers intervene to find the cry of other blue tits at the same time. Laurent Charbonnier adds: “We were vigilant that there was the right sound at the right time, so that the atmosphere was exact. Sound engineers record the sounds of nature. Then the sound effects technician synchronizes them. For the paw of the oak weevil on the branch or the boar which rubs itself on the trunk, these are sound effects."

“Nature is not immutable, it is a dynamic”

Marc-André Selosse, biologist and professor at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (National Museum of Natural History in Paris, MNHN), is one of the scientific advisors to Le Chêne. In his opinion, “the film is a success in that it shows a poetic and elegant vision of the tree, a tree interacting with animals.” Le Chêne also reminds us, according to the scientist, that “nature is not immutable, it is a dynamic”. In addition to the MNHN, the film is also associated with the Office national des forêts (National Forestry Office) and UNESCO, among others, and is accompanied by environmental education actions aimed at children.

Interactions on a scale even smaller than that of insects escape the eye of the camera, "like mites, which interact with the tree under the leaves and feed on small parasites, but which are not easy to show,” explains Marc-André Selosse.

Overall, it is an immersion in the forest mixing softness and exuberance and which offers, via the screen, points of view not very accessible to humans; Le Chêne was screened at the 2022 Berlin Film Festival under its title in English, Heart of Oak, and was released in cinemas in France on February 23, 2022. You can read a review in English here, and others in French (here) and German (here). Let’s hope it becomes available to a wider audience soon.