[12 August 2013]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
“You and I live on different planets.” Neither Danny Devero nor his sister Camilla is in frame when she makes this observation. Instead, we see a long shot of her planet, a sofa draped with an animal-pelt-looking throw rug. Here the figure of her husband stretched is visible, his arms behind his head and face hidden. He’s watching an HD TV on the wall before him, the low familiar buzz of an authority’s narration droning in the background. The décor tasteful gray, her baby’s car seat parked on a neat hardwood floor. “It’s always been that way,” Danny notes, his voice low and flat as the shot cuts to his face in close-up.
That face is shadowed and turned down as they speak, his shoulder-length hair knotted and his wrist adorned with brightly colored strings. “I didn’t choose this for myself, dear sister,” he explains, as if for the hundredth time. “It just happened.” “This” is Danny’s current life as part of the collective Fuck for Forest, the focus of Michael Marczak’s sly, smart, sometimes startling documentary. With the group, he performs—sings, dances, chants, and has sex—for a cause, namely, to raise money for the Amazonian rainforest and the tribes who live in them. “I don’t understand you,” says Camilla, still off camera.
No kidding. Within the first three minutes of Fuck for Forest—which is screening at the DocYard on 12 August, followed by a Q&A with Marczak by Skype and producer Shane Boris in person—you learn that during 23-year-old Danny’s former life, on Camilla’s planet (Bergen, Norway), he dropped out of school as a teenager, briefly pursued a passion for international show jumping (he shows his medals, stored in a closet at his sister’s), and quit that because of “the cruel measures he would have to administer on the animals at that level of competitiveness.” His has no home now to speak of, but travels with the Berlin-based NGO organized by Tommy Hol Ellingsen and Leona Johansson, a small group sometimes described as “hippies,” who do shoot and show amateur sex videos and photos on an “eco-porn” website to raise their funds.
As this witty and provocative film reveals, Fuck for Forest has raised some $100,000, but they don’t spend it on themselves. Rather, offers the film’s narrator, because their “mastermind” Leona has put “a ban on any purchase,” they dumpster-dive and solicit cooperation from strangers they meet on the street, inviting them to sing or sway along with crude, emphatically unchoreographed routines on the sidewalk, contribute their own photos or videos to the website, or sometimes join in sex acts with group members, taped and offered for sale on the website. The group claims one in 10 strangers they encounter want to participate, and the film shows a couple of instances where this appears to be so.
“Everything is free,” goes one of Danny’s songs. It may be that “everything” is comprised of a general notion of “nature,” animals and plants and rivers and such. It may be that it includes as well minds of the group members, loosed by hallucinogenic drugs and their chosen, nomadic-ish lifestyle, which looks like it might be low-cost but also high risk. One member is Kaajal Shetty, who looks very young and lovely and hardly speaks, and whom the narrator says is “originally from Mumbai.” She met Tommy in Oslo, and when she was preparing to return to her parents’ home in India, “he kidnapped her, forcing her to miss her flight.” At this point—as you watch her watch one of Danny and Tommy and Leona’s swaying, singing bits—Kaajal reportedly found it difficult to “deny the chemistry she felt with Tommy,” and so she stayed with him, despite her family “declaring her impure and disowning her.”
You don’t know whether the narrator—whose tone, rendered in English, is not a little sarcastic—means “kidnapped” specifically (legally) or loosely (facetiously). And your views of Kaajal’s relationship with Tommy are vague and hard to read, as she appears in frames clinging to his arm or gazing into his eyes a few more times. As she’s the only brown-skinned member of FFF you see, that very lack of clarity concerning her part in the group and the film is striking and perplexing. This especially during a scene where Tommy has sex with her in front of an audience in a basement, Danny on guitar and a couple of onlookers shaking tambourines or nodding their heads. The camera snap-pans from onlookers’ faces to the sex performance and then to Tommy, post-act, licking his fingers while declaring the value of “virgin blood.” He goes, on, “We’re so afraid of our blood and our juices and sperm, but it’s all organic.”
Whether you read Tommy’s proclamations as earnest or high or delusionally self-loving, the camera’s choices here do make you think about your own reading process. As his audience in the basement might smile and nod or laugh and point (as a couple of briefly imaged young men do), the scene resembles any old porn, commercially available and frequently exploitative. And so you’re left to wonder how “free” such a scene might be, in whose mind, and who might benefit from it. Just so, the film goes on to show the group traveling to Brazil and then Colombia, where they meet with a seeming tribe, whose leader Aladino, according to Fuck for Forest‘s narrator, “accessed them on the internet,” and solicited their money.
In an actual rainforest, the well-intentioned FFF collective members look exceedingly white, as well as increasingly confused and frustrated. The camera pans from faces of the natives to those of the visitors, quite vividly looking as if they’re from another planet. They dance shirtless and observe a birth, agree to take local natural drugs that will “heal the soul,” while blurring the boundaries between human and natural bodies. Even as Danny resists (“I don’t feel ready to take it”), he goes along, not so much challenged as instructed by Tommy and, silently, Leona. The ritual around the campfire leads to more swaying and chanting, and the next morning, a session with the tribal members, dressed in t-shirts and jean shorts and vocally suspicious of FFF’s intentions.
Though Leona and Tommy do their best to explain their purpose, what they term “our little philosophy about life,” the Colombians don’t see it, and reject the offer, which doesn’t seem built to help with reforestation or fund specific educational or infrastructure projects. “There is no clear plan of work here,” observes one tribal member, “they don’t know why they’ve come here.” Here again, you may wonder at what you’re seeing, both the miserable familiarity and utter strangeness of this exchange, at FFF’s determination to support or even initiate “ecological projects” that may or may not exist.
This in turn leads you to wonder at the film’s existence, in the sense of how it positions you. All of these wonders are exceptionally pertinent to any number of “projects” meaning to help those in need. The images in South America are often gorgeous, bodies silhouetted against an Amazonian sunset, trees lush green and skies thick blue. These suggest the urgency of the FFF cause, the need for ecological preservation. But they also suggest the fantasy of the forest, the group’s abject lack of information or curiosity, their navel-gazing even as they chant about “everything” that might exist beyond the borders of their own bodies.