Private Project

Ancient Giants

After an ill-fated expedition to northern Patagonia, in search of one of the oldest living trees on Earth, three explorers reflect on their discoveries and what it means for the future of rainforests.

  • Zak Bentley
  • Jassa Ahluwalia
  • Zak Bentley
  • Waldo Etherington
  • Waldo Etherington
    Key Cast
  • Ian Geddes
    Key Cast
  • Zak Bentley
    Key Cast
  • Zak Bentley
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Genres:
    Natural history, adventure, travel, documentary
  • Runtime:
    15 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    March 23, 2019
  • Production Budget:
    10,000 GBP
  • Country of Origin:
    United Kingdom
  • Country of Filming:
    Chile, United Kingdom
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital 1080p
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Zak Bentley

Zak Bentley is a tree climber, filmmaker and photographer from Dorset, England. When not directing his own films, he camera operates for wildlife and documentary films, specialising in shooting at height, working for some of the world's most accomplished natural history production companies, including Silverback Films and the BBC. His work has taken him across the globe, from uninhabited islands in the North Sea to the rainforest of Borneo.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

From the moment I climbed my first tree, I knew I had to make a film about it. The view from the top offers a truly unique perspective on the world, a perspective I had never seen on film.

The Alerce were prime candidates; they are huge and relatively unknown trees. We set out like postcolonial heroes to make a film about deforestation and the need to protect these ancient giants.

We did not come prepared. On our first day in Chile we discovered that Alerce trees are already protected. In fact, they are a national monument and Chileans are immensely proud of them. This would prove to be the first of many humbling encounters.

Though the premise of our film lay in tatters, we resolved to document our expedition nonetheless. An expedition rich in life affirming experiences and discovery. Whether it was being stalked by a cougar, or perching atop a two thousand year-old tree during an earthquake, it was through these moments that the essence of the film came to light.

We discovered that when you are in true old growth rainforest you are at the mercy of mother nature. You have to become part of the landscape. It rains all the time. You go to bed wet and mud-caked. In the depths of the forest there are no footpaths, you have to carve out trails, finding high ground to sight emergent trees, taking a bearing and cracking on for half a day only to realise you ploughed half a kilometre in the wrong direction, and you have to try again.

Eventually, we made it into the tops of the trees. Sixty metres off the ground, where whole ecosystems are at work. Ecosystems we know very little about. Climbing into them is like visiting another universe, one where life moves in all directions, defying gravity, changing from branch to branch, a world without terra firma.

The feeling at the top is a curious mix: there’s a sense of being an outsider in a strange new world, and yet, being held in the arms of these ancient giants, it feels like home.

By the time our adventure came to an end we had a lot of footage, but no film. We tried to splice some semblance our original concept into existence but nothing cohesive emerged. Then one day, some 5 years later, a friend suggested a retrospective. A reflection on our trip, our footage, and a discussion of the true lessons learnt. Our feature length documentary became a short, focused on our most salient discovery: the difference between plantation and old growth virgin rainforest.

My hope is that Ancient Giants provokes questions and curiosity. Is sustainable forestry really sustainable? Are we reforesting or simply planting trees, creating monocultures that are devoid of life? What can we do to change the future?