'A Will for the Woods': Film Review

Narrow focus limits doc about a worthwhile subject.

A terminally ill man evangelizes for burial methods that don't harm the environment

Less an introduction to the green-burial movement than a portrait of one man who embraced it after being diagnosed with a terminal illness, A Will for the Woods is more sentimental than journalistic. However sympathetic viewers find Clark Wang, a peculiar and driven psychiatrist who seeks meaning in his likely death by embracing this environmental cause, most will wish for more background on an underexposed, eminently reasonable trend that encompasses more discussions than we see here. The doc will play best with the already-converted, leaving a spot open in the marketplace for a more informative film.

Advocates have many arguments to make against the status quo of American burials, in which bodies are pumped full of preservatives, boxed up in resource-intensive caskets, and buried in fields that can't reasonably continue to expand in proportion to the world's population. Many of these arguments are alluded to here, especially in scenes with Green Burial Council founder Joe Sehee. (A brief sequence following Sehee to a funeral-industry convention shows how bizarrely gimmicky the business of death has become.) But science, governmental regulation and ecology are back-burner issues here, with the focus on one easily accepted take on green burial: The idea of preserving wooded landscapes instead of chopping trees down for cemeteries, then planting dead bodies in them in ways that encourage their decomposition and natural recycling into plant material.

Wang is passionate about this scenery-preserving plan, and becomes a highly visible champion of it while convincing an owner of a conventional cemetery to set aside an undeveloped part of her property for like-minded customers. The doc's four-person team of directors follow him almost exclusively, discussing his youth and hobbies, introducing his wife and watching the painful treatments he undergoes for lymphoma.

When those treatments fail, the film devotes a long chunk of its running time to chronicling one example of a green burial: A small group of friends gathers to receive and wash Wang's body, sit with it shiva-style in his home, and take it to a spot in the woods where Wang's friends and wife will someday join him, nourishing plants instead of staking out a chunk of real estate for hundreds of years.


Production company: Overwhelming Umbrella Productions

Directors: Amy Browne, Jeremy Kaplan, Tony Hale, Brian Wilson

Producers: Amy Browne

Director of photography: Jeremy Kaplan

Editors: Tony Hale, Brian Wilson

Music: T. Griffin

No rating, 93 minutes