Fifteen years ago, Gérard Mathar and Catherine Jacob left family, friends and homeland for a life of self-sufficiency in the boreal forest of the Gaspé Peninsula, Québec: building their own home, planting fruit and veg, rearing animals, foraging in the woods. Now as their sons become adults, will the next generation also commit to a life bound to the land? What makes the intense demands and sacrifices of this life worth it? What does it mean to truly appreciate and live with nature? And what can we learn from this inspiring family? A film of exquisite beauty, The Family of the Forest ponders these questions with a poetic sensitivity while joining the Jacob-Mathar family at a pivotal time: as Côme, Ossyane, and Jonas emerge into adulthood and Gérard and Catherine complete an ambitious plan to keep their sons close to family and forest.
The June 3 screening will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker and one of the protagonists.
Friday June 03
Saturday June 04
Sunday June 05
Monday June 06
Tuesday June 07
Thursday June 09
Not long after meeting Gérard and Catherine, I found myself sitting on their garden terrace, sipping balsam fir lemonade out of Mason jars, and listening to their story. Surrounded by the forest on an early summer’s morning, their immense organic garden to my left and two-story hand-built wooden home to my right, I knew there was a film to be made.
I was primed to recognize and receive their story. Humanity’s relationship with the natural world was a theme of my first documentary, Okpik’s Dream. In 2015, the year I met Gérard and Catherine, Okpik’s Dream won Honourable Mention for the Grand Prize at the Innsbruck Nature Film Festival in Austria. I attended the festival and was startled to see that most films fell into one of two categories: talking head documentaries telling us that the planet is doomed or nature documentaries filled with mesmerizing footage of landscapes, animals, plants, insects but no trace of humanity. I yearned for a film bridging the two worlds, offering hopeful, tangible, personal ways forward.
Influenced by artists like Emily Carr and Rembrandt, The Family of the Forest revels in the light, texture and majesty of nature; in the tableau-like details and actions of a family whose lives are so directly and intrinsically tied to the natural world. Inspired by Gérard and Catherine’s commitment to living with nature, I challenged myself and my dedicated collaborators to root our craft in family, forest and nature. This intention manifests in everything from the sound design with its reliance on field recordings to the original music with its rhythmic, percussion sounds made from juniper berries and green alder catkins foraged by the family.
While the determination to fill a void propelled this film forward, its inspiration is deeply rooted in my own childhood memories of attending a rural school at the foot of the forested Niagara Escarpment: playing in cold, dark streams, turning over moss covered rocks in search of salamanders, never knowing what might lay beneath; watching monarch butterflies open and close their wings while resting on milkweed pods; bringing home praying mantises in my lunchbox, much to my mother’s chagrin, captivated by the imposing green insect with its head bowed and front legs folded.
The Family of the Forest is inspired by the simple yet sublime moments that come when we engage with nature. It finds beauty and imagination in small acts, quiet moments, difficult decisions, and the rhythm of life. These are some of the things that I longed for seven years ago in an Austrian cinema; what I long for today in our overwhelming and unprecedented times.
– Laura Rietveld