Understory is a short film that takes us deep into Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest remaining temperate rainforest on the planet. Our guide, Elsa Sebastian, is a young local fisherman who grew up “off-grid” in a remote village surrounded by the vast, ancient forest. When Elsa learns that the U.S. federal government is axing environmental protections for nine million acres of the Tongass, she is driven to action–first fixing up an old sailboat, and then setting sail on a 350-mile expedition along the rainforest’s coast. Elsa is joined by Dr. Natalie Dawson, a biologist who has spent decades studying Alaska’s wildlife, and artist Mara Menahan. For a month the team documents old-growth trees threatened by logging, witnesses the dark aftermath of clearcuts, visits streams teeming with salmon, and learns about indigenous cultural connections to the Tongass. As Elsa, Natalie, and Mara personally and directly face the devastating impacts of the timber industry on the old growth forest, they struggle to hold onto hope. With the end of their journey comes the realization that saving our last ancient rainforests is more urgent than they could have imagined.
As a non-fiction director, Colin Arisman’s cinematic storytelling focuses on outdoor culture, backcountry recreation, ecology, conservation, wild foods, and rural communities. His impact filmmaking stands out through an ability to synthesize complex topics into human stories that breathe with visceral experience. Colin’s work as a director has been acclaimed by Outside Magazine, nominated for Vimeo’s coveted “Best of the Year” Award, and can be found touring internationally with numerous festivals, including Telluride Mountain Film, Banff, Wild & Scenic and 5 Point. Colin is the founder of Wild Confluence, a production company whose clients include REI, NBC, CBC, Patagonia, Yeti and the Wilderness Society. Colin’s roots are in Vermont but these days you’re most likely to find him in Alaska.