Family Tree

In the American South, Black forest owners fight to maintain their family legacy and create sustainable forests for generations to come.

Family Tree explores sustainable forestry in North Carolina through the stories of two Black families fighting to preserve their land and legacy. They face challenging family dynamics, unscrupulous developers, and changing environmental needs. Despite setbacks, they work to create sustainable land to pass on to the next generation.

  • Jennifer MacArthur
    Whose Streets?
  • Rupert Maconick
    5B, Own The Room, Lo and Behold
  • Geeta Gandbhir
    I Am Evidence, Hungry to Learn
  • Darius Davis
  • Hannah Choe
    Dark Money, Geographies of Kinship
  • Rafael Roy
    Director of Photography
    Anthem, Lady Buds
  • Kelin Verrette
    Story Producer
  • Nadine Natour
    Associate Producer
    RBG, Natour Grocery
  • Wilson Land
    Drone Cinematographer
    Always in Season
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 33 minutes 29 seconds
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Jennifer MacArthur

Jennifer MacArthur is a filmmaker exploring the impact of our changing climate through the intersection of documentary and genre film. She is currently directing Family Tree, a family drama about Black forest landowners in North Carolina.

Previously, Jennifer produced the critically acclaimed feature documentary Whose Streets?, which premiered on DAY ONE of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and sold to Magnolia Pictures. She has also produced for TIME Studios, Soledad O’Brien Productions, and Anonymous Content. She is a 2018 IFP Cannes Producers Network Fellow and 2016 Sundance Creative Producing Summit Fellow and a member of the board of directors for Storyline Media, an award-winning multi-platform, participatory, and interactive storytelling company.

Jennifer is a recognized expert in media engagement, a 2015 Creative Change Leader, and a 2015 Rockwood JustFilms Fellow. Over a ten-year period, she helped define the field with impact campaigns for Traces of the Trade (POV, 2008) and Gideon’s Army (HBO, 2013); engagement strategy for the ITVS social TV platform OVEE; and thought leadership for the Impact Field Guide, Impact Tracker, and StoryPilot, among others. Her work also took her to Amsterdam, Melbourne, and Guadalajara for keynotes addressing systemic racism, big data, and low-fi transmedia. Jennifer sits on the advisory board for Harmony Labs, a media research institute founded by Buzzfeed co-founder John S. Johnson. Jennifer is a graduate of The New School’s film program in New York City. She lives and works in Los Angeles.

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Director Statement

When I was 15, my family moved from Connecticut to Alaska, forever changing my relationship with the natural world. I had considered myself a preservationist up until that point. However, Alaska Natives’ struggle for subsistence rights taught me that land use is a crucial part of environmental sustainability.

Protecting resources sometimes means using them. This is especially true for forest lands, whose owners often lack the resources and know-how to manage their trees, so they sell to developers instead.

When I returned to the Lower 48, I had a newfound understanding of how sustainable development and racial justice are inextricably linked. Equality and empowerment mean the freedom to choose and impact how resources are utilized for current and future generations. For many BIPOC people, these rights have been for so long oppressed.

When it comes to African Americans, our rich history and legacy as stewards of this land are marred by Jim Crow. My grandfather escaped this racist violence in his hometown of Chase City, Virginia, leaving behind acres of inherited forest lands that my family struggles to manage today. I only learned of this by chance when researching for this project!

It is no wonder that the current discourse on forestry often renders African Americans invisible. Little is known about Black families like mine who own forest lands, let alone actively engage with business and government to develop their lands sustainably.

The agency and ingenuity of the Black family is a theme throughout my career, from the NPR oral history initiative StoryCorps Griot to the critically acclaimed Sundance documentary Whose Streets?. Our everyday families, fighting not only to survive but to thrive, animate so much of America's progress on justice and equity. I believe that, ultimately, the same holds true for the future of our changing climate.

In centering rural African American voices and experiences, Family Tree aims to ignite interest and energy among Black influencers who drive so much of the conversation in America. General audiences will be invited to rethink the meaning of sustainability, reclaiming the concept from the sterile confines of UN assemblies and university classrooms. Sustainability means family, land, ownership, and intergenerational wealth.

Family Tree is a timely and vital film project that reclaims the essential role African Americans have had -- and continue to have -- in creating sustainable forest lands for us all.