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Film Shows the Story of Climate Change, Told By One Tree

Tuesday, June 2, 2015
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Witness Tree by Lynda Mapes

During her Bullard Fellowship at the Forest, journalist Lynda Mapes has been taking a long look at a single tree: a tagged, tracked, 100-year-old red oak. A new short film by Patrick Wellever and colleagues from the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT highlights the project and Mapes' forthcoming book, Witness Tree.

In the film, the tree’s seasonal year is captured in time lapse photography constructed from images made by a webcam the Knight program installed expressly for this project. 

"The video allows readers to meet the tree for themselves," reflects Mapes, "to see it in the forest as the wind blows, the snow falls, and its first leaves come out. The film also introduces some of the other characters in the story — scientists at the Harvard Forest working to understand how the forest and the tree are changing because of climate change. Getting to know one familiar, even beloved, living thing well, helps me tell what can otherwise become a very abstract story." 

The film crew visited the Forest over the course of 5 months, climbing the tree right along with Mapes, and following researchers on field excursions.

"The book definitely benefitted from the making of the film," says Mapes. "I found every time I needed to tell the story to someone else, it helped me shape the narrative I’m building."

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