The Hollow Tree is an ancient Western Red Cedar that has become an icon in the city of Vancouver. Immortalized by a century of photographs, people from far and wide—from British pioneers to Chinese tourists—have journeyed to Vancouver to pose in front of its gnarled roots and stand within its gaping interior.
After a massive windstorm in Stanley Park, the Hollow Tree is left with an ominous lean. Public debate erupts around what the fate of the tree should be. The Parks Board deems the tree a safety hazard and votes to knock it down. However, a group of citizens—an engineer, a physicist, a historian and an arborist—come forward with a solution that will right the tree back to vertical and anchor it to the ground for centuries to come. Bowing to public pressure, the Parks Board allows the group to proceed, under the condition that no public dollars be spent on the project.
With extremely limited resources, these four pioneers must rely on primitive tools, ingenuity, brute force, and a lot of community spirit to get the job done in time for the 2010 Olympic games. As the story unfolds, a much deeper history emerges—this is not the first time that human beings have intervened to keep this tree up. But will their efforts be enough to keep the Hollow Tree standing once and for all, or will all their dreams come crashing down?
Award(s): Best Documentary, Yosemite Film Festival
Festivals: DOXA Documentary Film Festival, Yosemite Film Festival
I was not born in Vancouver. I came to the city when I was 18 and it was not until I began shooting this film that I first laid eyes on the Hollow Tree. It was a rainy day in 2008, the old cedar was leaning on its timber struts, held together with bolts and cables, and surrounded by a big blue fence. I thought to myself, “Is this really worth the trouble?” But as I entered into the hollow, I felt something that countless others had felt before me—a shared experience—and I began to think, there is more to this tree than just wood and steel.
As those first days of filming progressed I attempted to remain objective. But as days turned to months, I secretly began rooting for these people that had given so much to this enormous effort, for their love, for their passion, and for their rebellion. But even more, I began to root for the tree itself.
It would have been so easy to just stand back and let this tree fall. As arbourist Julian Dunster put it, “It’s easy to cut a tree down, it’s a lot harder to keep one up.” If it had fallen, there would have been a moment of silence and then the Hollow Tree would have faded into the limbo of forgotten things.
I believe in parallel universes and multiple dimensions. And I believe that in just about every other version of reality—probabilistically—the Hollow Tree is allowed to fall. But we are fortunate enough to exist in the tiny sliver of reality where the tree remains proudly erect, and for that I am grateful and mystified.
For all those people who have never been to see the Hollow Tree, I hope they will take this story as a metaphor. We all have a Hollow Tree in our lives—some ragged, broken-down liability that would be easier to throw away—but with a bit of love and elbow grease we could make it work for us again.
While creating this film I went through a transformation within myself—from a position of pure utility, to one of objectivity, to one of celebration. With this film I have attempted to carry the audience along with me on that very same journey. We all have a responsibility to tend our own little corner of the garden. That is exactly what these people have done here in Vancouver, British Columbia. And that calls for a celebration.