Seasons is a beautifully-filmed elegy to the forests that once covered much of Europe from the end of the last Ice Age until the arrival of agriculturally-minded humans who, in the film-makers' central message, ruined everything. Co-directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud - already well known for Winged Migration and Oceans, the film took four years to make, and like their earlier films it involved some very sophisticated camera work to get intimately close with the flora and fauna of the forest.
The film-makers sought out the remnants of Europe's great forests in France, Norway, Scotland, Romania and Holland to shoot scenes of wolves hunting wild boar, male bears fighting over a female, baby ducks learning to fly - or fall, beetles in mid-air, owls peeking out of hollow tree trunks and a deer giving birth to a faun. For the wolves' pursuit of the boar, the filmmakers put cameras on ATV's with sophisticated image-stabilization technology to follow the hunt for a long distance through the trees.
As is characteristic of all the best nature videography, the film-makers have the patience to stay with their subject to tell nature's story at its own pace. We see one thrilling sequence where a lynx chases a deer through bare-branched trees in the fall but is outrun by the more fleet-footed deer who escapes down a slope, leaving the lynx panting and looking forlorn. Then we see the lynx stalking another deer some months later in the snow - this time the deer's hooves cannot outperform the wide padded paws of the lynx in the deep snow, and the lynx makes the kill.
The first three quarters of the film follow the natural passage of the seasons in the forest - in the winter the animals struggle to survive, in the spring they vie for mates, in the summer they bat away flies and in the fall they feed themselves up to prepare for the coming winter again. But as the occasional narration has hinted, this sylvan idyll is going to be largely destroyed by man, who chops down the trees to build huts and make way for agriculture and towns and cities and military campaigns - 3,000 oak trees needed to build just one warship, we learn! The forest retreats, and along with it the wild animals that called it home, and in its place man creates "countryside." Polluting factories spew chemicals over the environment, world wars churn up the ground, industrial farming coats everything with insecticide sprays, and for the first time man is actively changing the water supply, the air quality and the climate. The film ends with a call to action - a call for mankind to learn to respect nature and wild creatures before it is too late - "a new alliance between man and nature is still possible," the narrator says. The message may be a little simplistic, but the stunning videography is worth the price of entry.
After the screening Andy Lipkis, the founder of Tree People in Los Angeles, a non-profit that has planted some 2 million trees in the LA area to help mitigate pollution, took up the theme of listening to nature. "Because of the drought, 100 million trees have been lost in the southern Sierras in the last few years - we need to get into peoples' heads that there is something precious there and we need to do something about it." Lipkis said that it is not a hopeless task, and pointed to the progress made in reducing the smog in Los Angeles from its choking levels in the 1970's. "There is hope... but we have got to heal some huge wounds." With 7 billion people on the planet it is unlikely we will ever see continent-wide forests again - but trees lining city streets and clean energy-using cars should be well within our capabilities.