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Life and Death of a Christmas Tree

Jack-of-all-trades documentary investigates the strange life cycle of the gigantic fir trees of Georgia - from the Baltic Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


This year’s Tallinn Film Festival has already promised to surpass the success of the previous edition with the variety of films that it’s delivering. Not only are we being treated to a wide array of outstanding narrative films, but there’s also a fabulous selection of documentaries on offer as well. For most, the quirkier the documentary the better, and Artūras Jevdokimovas’ Life and Death of a Christmas Tree is up there in contention for being the most unusual at the festival. Surely, you’ve all wondered about the life cycle of a Christmas tree while decorating the one in your house with an assortment of tinsel and lights. Well, this multinational documentary will answer any query you have on the matter, and then some.

Christmas is just around the corner and the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree will soon be upon you – just make sure you don’t leave it too late now. Most households around the world will have a tree tucked away in the corner somewhere, but where do they come from? How do they get into your homes? Lithuanian filmmaker, Artūras Jevdokimovas (who also wrote the film alongside Ramunė Rakauskaitė), ventures to the beginning of the fir tree’s journey, from the forests of Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains before they’re transported to Denmark, and then the inevitable trip into your homes. The film focuses on the harvesting of fir seeds in the Racha region of Georgia where the locals climb 40-metre-tall trees in search of these precious cones.

The cones are shipped to Denmark – Europe’s biggest exporter of Christmas trees – and into the hands of people like Marriane and Lars. The couple operates an organic Christmas tree business that also aims to help their Georgian partners with workplace safety during their death-defying day-to-day jobs. The film’s production was cursed though, and the locals in this Georgian community were forced to mourn the loss of the 13-year-old Luca (and son of one of the managers) who was shot by his best friend, the 15-year-old Mate for unknown reasons – footage of the two boys playing with one another is also fleetingly spread throughout the film as well.

Life and Death of a Christmas Tree does a wonderful job of showcasing the life cycle of the fir tree. From the beginnings as a seedling to the end when they are cast to the side of the road ready to be flung into the dump. There’s something melancholic about the process though, how these trees seemingly have one purpose in life, for them to be a household decoration for maybe a month, before rotting away. The film excels in highlighting the methodology of the process; the exploration of the harvest which is made possible by exhilarating and highly detailed footage – the cinematography is one of the film’s most impressive aspects as well. It is laden with all types of different camera footage, whether it’s fantastic drone videos that zoom through the gaps in the trees while also capturing the Caucasus Mountain range. Or even the enthralling Go-Pro angles that are captured from the worker’s heads as they ascend to the top of these trees – it definitely puts into perspective how dangerous this job actually is, something that people don’t realise when they are choosing their own tree. Still, after watching this, you will all start thinking about this perilous process.

The characters in the film also elevate the story with their engaging and often, humorous interviews. It might come from Lars and Marriane and their quirky life (the former of whom also adds his own very literal description of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, from 1994) while allowing us to gaze at them around the dinner table – a particularly personal intrusion. But we also get an insight into the Georgian people who work in this industry, all of whom are authentic, honest, and hard-working. The film also introduces individual characters like the adorable little girl who spends time with her brother and her farmyard animals and wishes for another girl in her class to play with – even though her inclusion is a bit of a mystery as she has no real relevance to the story of Christmas trees, her appearance offers a feeling of innocence and light-heartedness.

Life and Death of a Christmas Tree is a jack-of-all-trades type of film because it delivers on several aspects of documentary filmmaking. It’s predominantly an observational film but one that also has a reflexive tone with its slow unwinding of the narrative, and yet, there’s an episodic feel to it because of the incorporation of several different stories that might seem out of place, and that’s when the effect of juxtaposition comes into play. It really is a wonderfully entertaining film though, with so many feathers to its bow that allow it to excel on a variety of different fronts. Still, maybe its best quality is how informative and interesting it becomes as you absorb the entire process from birth to death.

Life and Death of a Christmas Tree just premiered in the Baltic Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By John McDonald - 16-11-2023

Failing from the seaside town of Southport but now living in Liverpool, John McDonald has had a passion for cinema since he was a small child. The westerns of John Wayne were his gateway into the cine...

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