As its title suggests, this candid documentary is all about crunching numbers. The story focuses on 28 tree planters putting 9.6 million trees in the ground during a single season in High Level, Alberta, fuelled by 700 lbs. of bacon and driven by the promise of $540 per day.
Planter-turned-filmmaker Nardella tries to burst any romantic notions his audience might have about the tree-planting lifestyle by chronicling the physical and emotional toil that comes with it. Whether they’re enduring inclement weather, bugs, rashes and trench foot, or treating their crumbling mental health with fits of laughter, the planters profiled by 78 Days are clearly disillusioned with the 9 to 5 lifestyle. One young family with two small children, for example, choose planting over coping with a mundane routine.
Most of the film’s characters have also become addicted to the freedom their job affords, which includes spending their hard-earned money in the Mexican surf or Rocky Mountain snow during the off-season. But their unconventional profession also has perks while on the clock. “We’re working under adverse conditions, we’re working hard, it’s an adventure,” explains one seasoned planter. “We make such strong bonds and connections with people.”
During the first half of the feature, it’s easy to be taken with the idea of leaving everything behind, working less than three months a year and ultimately being free of financial shackles. Yet by the time the crew is dealing with “mid-season burnout,” their laments become a touch overbearing, even after witnessing them grunting through 10-hour days of physical labour and dealing with the harsh realities of nature.
One of the more poignant aspects of 78 Days is that it stares straight into the barrel of the forestry industry. Nardella’s camera pans across landscapes ravaged by logging companies, while offering an equally raw tale of the people attempting to restore them. And while the film certainly has broad appeal, it’s primarily a must-see for anyone who’s considered becoming a tree planter or quitting a cushy desk job.
78 Days, directed by Jason Nardella, Canada: Somebody, 2011, 62 minutes
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