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New Documentary Illuminates the Environmental Cost of Modern Guitar Building

For hundreds of years guitars have been made the same way. Now, this could all change.

Musicwood is an enlightening and alarming new documentary directed and produced by Maxine Trump. The film follows a group of some of the world’s most famous guitar builders, including Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars, Chris Martin of Martin Guitar, and Dave Berryman of Gibson Guitars, in a joint endeavor with Greenpeace to help protect a resource at the heart of their craft—the Sitka Spruce tree.

The builders are informed that their supply of spruce comes from the Tongass National Forest, which covers most of southeastern Alaska.  The spruce in question is sold by the Sealaska Corporation, a for-profit company owned by the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Native American tribes of Southeast Alaska.

Sealaska has chosen to “harvest” its spruce via clear-cutting, a controversial logging method that completely strips an area of any and all trees and, according to the method’s detractors, contributes to deforestation (see the deforestation definition below), destroying natural habitats and climate change.  Sealaska states that they have made the “difficult choice” of utilizing this deforestation method in order to address the severe economic conditions of our tribal member shareholders.  However, as Musicwood points out, it is somewhat dubious as to where Sealaska’s profits are really going, considering many of the “shareholders” live lives hovering around the poverty line.

Set against the breathtaking beauty of Southeast Alaska and with a soundtrack featuring acoustic performances by Yo La Tengo, Kaki King, Steve Earle, and more, Musicwood reveals a culture clash of staggering proportions.

The guitar builders are brought face-to-face with the environmental impact caused by their craft, and all pledge to take steps to ameliorate their industrial footprint on the environment (we soon learn, however, that Gibson Guitars—who pioneered the environmentally friendly “Smartwood” series in the late 90s—has (ironically) been subjected to federal warehouse raids in both 2009 and 2011 for allegedly illegally importing wood and fraudulently mislabeling it thereafter).

Musicwood is a wonderfully informative and entertaining examination of the environmental impact caused by a market requiring the pristine figured top, or rare Brazilian Rosewood fretboard, and a profit-driven industry compelled to satisfy that market. The result is a complex, heartbreaking battle over natural resources in which what is “right” is often clouded by concerns of pragmatism and necessity.

Musicwood screenings began in November of 2012 at the DocNYC Film Festival and have been featured at numerous festivals throughout early 2013.  The recent screening tour kicked off at Bonnaroo on June 15 and then at Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival and Newport Folk Festival, with additional dates to be added.  Musicwood opens in Portland, Oregon, on August 9 and Juneau, Alaska, on August 23.  Additional theatrical runs in New York City and other cities will be announced soon, in addition to digital distribution.

Official Website: http://musicwoodthefilm.com/

What is deforestation?

Deforestation refers to the large-scale removal of forest land, often resulting in the permanent destruction of indigenous forests and woodlands. This process is driven by various factors, including agricultural expansion, logging for timber, urbanization, and infrastructure development. Deforestation has significant environmental impacts, including loss of biodiversity, disruption of water cycles, soil erosion, and contribution to climate change by releasing stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It also affects indigenous communities and wildlife that depend on forest ecosystems for their survival. Efforts to combat deforestation include reforestation, sustainable land management practices, and policies aimed at conserving existing forests while promoting the use of alternative resources.

Drew Amendola

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