Duke Of York’s Picturehouse, Preston Circus, Brighton,
Monday, June 2
When maestro guitar makers Chris Martin, Bob Taylor and Dave Berryman decided to travel on a tiny boat to a remote Alaskan forest to negotiate with Native Americans, Maxine Trump knew she had to get on board.
“As soon as I heard that these competitors were getting together on a boat, I was like, ‘We have to get a camera on board to capture that.’”
The New York-based Brit might have been interested in seeing how the bosses of guitar manufacturers Gibson, Martin and Taylor were going to deal with fierce rivals in close proximity, but the bigger picture concerned environmental damage: logging is destroying America’s only rainforest, the Tongass National Forest.
Deforestation is a problem for the craftsmen because they need the wood for their products. As Martin explains in the film, certain woods work best for acoustic guitars: Brazilian rosewood (now banned) is right for the back and sides; rare African ebony is best for the fingerboards; Sitka spruce – in large supply up in the Tongass – works for the top or face.
Trump calls Musicwood a music adventure documentary. Kaki King and Steve Earle twiddle their fingers on camera and Yo La Tengo and a host of other bands feature on the soundtrack. Yet it’s also a political thriller, she adds.
“It’s both, but a political thriller is how we have focused it because it is really about these Native Americans who have already had a really raw deal from the US government.
“And here is a bunch of white guys going up and saying, ‘Please don’t over-log and deforest your land’. Listen to us. Again it is the white guy going up there to tell them what to do, so they say no.”
Trump spent five years covering a story which feels like a parable for corporate America.
The native tribes, the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian, had to form a corporation, Sealaska, to claim rights to parts of their homeland. By doing so, in the eyes of the American government, they became land owners. The catch is by forming a corporation they must make a profit and pay dividends.
“Now they have made a corporation it becomes like any resource extraction,” explains Trump, who compares Sealaska’s actions to those of the “nastiest” corporations.
“It’s just like everyone else. It’s unfortunate now it’s Native Americans as well, and that was a bit of a shock to us.
“But like every race there are people who are greedy and who want to make a ton of money. There are other guys who want to protect resources and there are guys in the middle who want to sit on the fence.”
Trump, who worked closely with Greenpeace on the film, says the charity had to keep its distance in a mineral-rich mining region.
“Greenpeace discovered all this horrendous clear-cutting going on in the forest which was wiping out larger trees, affecting the eco-system.
“They searched for the end users and were smart enough to say, ‘Well, the native tribes aren’t going to listen to us but they might listen to the most famous guitar guys in the world.”
Director Maxine Trump is hosting a Q&A and Matt Bonner and The Excerts play an exclusive set on the night