It is hard not to feel anger and bile rising as you watch Wood. Shot like a thriller, with hidden cameras recording the casual greed of Chinese, Romanian, and Austrian logging company managers carelessly talking about the rape and pillage of the natural world, all that is wrong with a world run in the ugly interests of rapacious billionaires is made clear.
Alexander Von Bismarck, the tall and handsome environmental sleuth who is the lynchpin of the film, reveals the detailed and careful plans his organisation lays to capture the truth of a sordid business that is at the heart of a global ecological crisis. From the wilds of the Siberian taiga – in Russia’s Far East region of Khabarovsk, where illegal loggers are cutting away at the forests that are the last habitat for the rare Siberian tiger – to the virgin forests of Romania and lush rain forests of Peru, Wood tracks roots out the truth hidden from consumers.
In its opening sequences, where a pistol-packing Russian forest ranger uncovers a deserted amateur logging camp – just the ashes of a fire and bare limbs of a makeshift shelter to be seen – we follow the trail of lumber to China and a vast processing plant, preparing timber flooring for the US market. Shrink-wrapped pallets destined for Lumber Liquidators point Alexander and his team in a direction that takes them back home. Secretly filmed footage with Chinese company bosses prove the timber is Russian (and in fact the Russian operation is so important to the bottom line that a senior manager is based in Siberia, not China) and the trail back to the US and an eventual criminal case against the company.
As Alexander remarks after purchasing a pack of the flooring from Lumber Liquidators, we are all pulled into the racket – most of us innocently – through just wanting to put a floor down in our new home.
Alexander Von Bismarck…reveals the detailed and careful plans his organisation lays to capture the truth of a sordid business that is at the heart of a global ecological crisis.
The tension in this well-crafted documentary is racked up a notch when the Romanian investigation demands a change of plan from the normal consumer sting operation to one where Alexander must pose as a businessman offering timber logged at illegal levels to Austrian timber giant Holzindustrie Schweighofer. Initial suspicions that the company, which has secured a leading position in Romanian logging over the past couple of decades, is in cahoots with illegal loggers confirmed via a Romanian regional manager, Alexander sets up a meeting with the Austrian country boss and gets him on camera agreeing to accept larger shipments of timber than it is legal to log.
When the story hits the media in Austria, Alexander, a fluent German speaker, holds a press conference in Vienna, where a senior manager from Holzindustrie Schweighofer denies any wrongdoing and pleads for a «private meeting» with Alexander. Later the big boss of the company records a nauseating video claiming that all the allegations are lies and that he is a great protector of forests. Considering that his company’s security men in Romania have already assaulted a member of the investigation team – spraying him with mace or a similar chemical agent – Herr Schweighofer’s little piece of drama can be taken with more than a pinch of salt. And things get nastier later with a number of forestry officials being killed as they pursue illegal loggers and the forestry minister finding herself poisoned with mercury.
In Peru indigenous people are in the frontlines of the war being fought on nature by the greedy and powerful; the Environmental Investigation Agency does what it can to highlight their plight, but the odds are stacked against it and the native people.
A powerful motivator
The film ends with a note that the investigation against the Austrian company continues and that the Romanian government has disabled a simple publicly available app designed by a local activist that allows for the tracking of illegal logging trucks.
Greed is a powerful motivator and if Wood proves nothing else, it is only when enough people have the awareness to resist such base motivations and demand the truth from their political representatives, shall the world ever have any hope of tackling the manifest problems currently assailing it.