Fejos Postdoctoral Fellow: Noam Osband

We're proud to share the following trailer and blogpost from Noam Osband, who in 2019 was awarded a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in Ethnographic Film to aid filming, "A Thousand Pines."

A Thousand Pines – Teaser (3 min) from Sebastian Diaz on Vimeo.

I received the Fejos Fellowship in 2019. At the time, I was working on my film, A Thousand Pines. The film is a year in the life of a tree planting crew from Oaxaca working in the USA. It is based on the research I carried out for my PhD in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. My thesis for that degree was a 3-hour documentary film looking at Mexican, American, and Canadian planters. That film had footnotes on screen and had a narrator using academic language, so it was not really meant for the wider public. But I knew I had the raw materials to turn the film into something that would appeal to a wider public.

This grant proved essential to completing this project. It was the first major grant I got after finishing my PhD, and I knew after securing it, I would have the funding to do something for a more general audience with all my footage. Fortunately, around the same time I received that grant, I also received a production grant from Latino Public Broadcasting. Those two grants combined meant I would have money both to hire an editor and to carry out additional filming.

At the time, I was working with a co-producer, Sebastián Diaz, a Mexican filmmaker who I met in New York (and who would later become my co-director on this project). We decided to bring on an outside editor for the project and use some of the Fejos funds for that purpose. We ended up using Angela Reginato, a Mexican-American editor in Oakland. We thought she was the right choice because she has experience making lyrical films, and in contrast to my dissertation film which was very word heavy, we wanted A Thousand Pines to be more lyrical and emotional. The funds from the Fejos helped pay for over 10 weeks of editing with Angela, a time that was crucial in helping us decide the trajectory of the film and make some cuts which we later used to secure additional funding. I also used funds to take some time off from work and focus full time on the film during these early planning stages.

Fejos funds were also used to travel to Mexico and carry out another shoot with some of the families of the men portrayed in the film. When I filmed most of the movie in 2013, I was still early in my filmmaker career and I didn’t have a strong sense of personal narrative storytelling, how using one person’s individual story can illuminate larger themes. The first big decision we made with our editor was to focus on three planters: the foreman and two first year planters. That decision helped us create a narrative for the film, and it also made it easier to figure out what materials we needed. We knew we would need additional b-roll of their homes and families and that we would look for archival material, videos and photos, that could also be used in the film. We also had some follow up questions to ask them since we also decided that the film would be a chronological, year in the life. As such, we wanted to have some voiceover from characters talking about the different seasons that we could use to make this happen.

The trip to Mexico happened in 2020 before Covid shut everything down, and it was a real success. We found amazing archival footage from our main protagonist, Raymundo Morales, including footage of him planting two decades earlier and footage of his beloved, now-deceased father working his land. Both these bits of archival footage were used to great effect in the final film. We also got the narration pickups we needed.

Ultimately, we finished the film in 2023. Since then, it has begun a run on the festival circuit. Highlights include screening in Mexico at the Morelia Film Festival, perhaps the country’s most important film festival, and we also won Best Documentary Feature at the Buffalo International Film Festival. Upon finishing this festival run, we will air on PBS with Independent Lens on April 1, 2024. We are very excited as that screening will reach hundreds of thousands of viewers. We are also hoping to do a tour of universities and community organizations in 2024, including – if we can find funding – screening the film in a few towns in Oaxaca that provide many of the workers carrying out reforestation work in the USA.

Our film website is www.athousandpinesfilm.com

Our Instagram handle is https://www.instagram.com/athousandpinesfilm/

And our FB page is https://www.facebook.com/athousandpines

Here’s a review of the film in Film Threat, a leading indie publication, and here’s an article about it in Zeta Libra, a Mexican publication.