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Bob Brown: a giant for the environment

The Giants is a documentary biopic on the life of former Senator and Greens party powerhouse, Bob Brown.

The opening reveals dramatic footage of the great ancient forests of Tasmania, and introduces the audience to Brown, now aged 78.

Bob Brown at Liffey (Photo: Matt Newton)

There is no missing the analogy between the film’s title, the trees – some up to 100 metres tall – and Brown, a man both tall in stature and an imposing figure in shaping Australia’s politics.

Part warrior, part peace, but always committed to the cause.

The Giants

The giant trees (Eucalyptus Regnans) are filmed using arborists on trapezes to track upwards from ground level to their full height at the canopy to give the viewer an idea of scale.

(Photo: Slingshot Films)

There is plenty of archival footage of Brown as a young man and a campaigner over the years, to visually illustrate a biography of an incredible Australian.

Bob Brown at a Town Hall meeting during the Franklin Campaign (Photo: ABC Library Sales)

Whether you agree with his politics – and many vehemently don’t – on his achievements alone, Bob Brown’s story is remarkable. He began his career in Tasmania as a GP, before falling into environmental activism and then politics.

Bob Brown at the Rally for Tarkine (Photo: Matthew Newton)

As leader one the of the world’s first Greens party, Brown was first elected as a representative of the Tasmanian Parliament, and then the Federal Senate, growing the number of elected Greens Senate members from one to five.

Bob Brown when elected in 1989 (Photo: ABC Library Sales)

All of this rose out of a very determined, strategic, and emotional campaign to save the Franklin River from destruction by corporations, through their scheme to build a dam.

He was member of a small core of Tasmanians who fought the influence of corporations and stood up to a government – as well as a community – who were opposed to their views.

A young man with a beard and long curls sits in a raft on a river
Archival footage of Bob Brown rafting the Franklin River for the first time in 1976 (Photo: Slingshot Films)

The intertwined story lines of forests and the evolution of an activist give contrast to the film’s pace and visual effects.

The film uses narration by scientists to explain some of the complex interconnected functions of water, light, fungi and lichen in the forests, to trap and transform carbon into energy, and to warn of the harm of destroying these forests and replacing them with monoculture plantations.

Looking up through trees and ferns towards light
Epiphyte ferns growing in symbiotic relationship with temperate forest trees at the National Botanic Gardens (Photo: Jenna Gray)

The political history is there for anyone who wants to reimmerse themselves in these significant events of the ‘70s, or for those who are unfamiliar with this part of Australia’s political history. The battles both won and lost – the flooding of Lake Pedder for a hydroelectric power scheme and the fight to save the Franklin River.

Bob Brown came out as gay in the media during the 70s, to help support LGBT rights at a time when homosexual acts were illegal and criminally penalised.

Creative co-directors Laurance Billiet and Rachel Antony conceptualised the idea of the film. They had collaborated on 2020 film Freeman, celebrating Cathy Freeman’s winning 400 metre sprint at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Co-directors Laurance Billiet and Rachel Antony with Bob Brown at Liffey (Photo: Matt Newton)

The film was enhanced with 3D scans and digital imagery by Terra Luma at the University of Tasmania.

Upward shot of trees with digital imagery from 3D scans

The story concludes with the gains made in protecting Tasmania’s forests and some of the losses and threats. It reinforces the point that the ancient forests of Tasmania still aren’t protected and are being clear felled for wood chip. It tears at the heart and anyone with enough interest in viewing this story will be moved by the man, angered by the destruction, and educated about the issues.