Musicwood: Film Review

Musicwood Trailer Screengrab - H 2013

Musicwood Trailer Screengrab - H 2013

This compelling, eco-themed documentary will be of vital interest to anyone who loves acoustic guitars.

Maxine Trump's documentary chronicles the efforts of American guitar companies to guarantee the continued supply of the high-quality wood necessary for their product.

The Taylor, Martin and Gibson guitar companies might be longtime competitors, but they have one goal in common: to guarantee the continued supply of the high-quality wood essential to their product. Maxine Trump’s documentary Musicwood vividly illustrates the scope of the problem in its depiction of the battle to preserve the rapidly diminishing forests essential to supplying the next Bob Dylan with a high-quality acoustic guitar to strum.

The film’s central conflict is a complicated one, insofar as it involves Native American loggers, not a group that would normally be thought of as being harmful to the environment. But their stewardship of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, a rainforest whose Sitka spruce tree is ideal for the building of the soundboards of acoustic guitars, has created problems. The supply is quickly being extinguished as the forests have fallen victim to their practice of clear-cutting, which destroys wide swaths in one fell swoop. Much of the wood goes not to the guitar manufacturers, but rather to Asian-based companies who need it to fuel that region’s ever-growing construction industry.

Documenting the quest of the company’s CEOs to battle the foresting practices with the help of the environmental group Greenpeace, the film delivers a compelling portrait of the complicated issues involved. The filmmaker’s sympathies are made evident by the presence of numerous prominent musicians -- Steve Earle, Kaki King, members of such groups as Lambchop and Yo La Tengo, among others -- who movingly testify to the glories of the acoustic guitar as well as providing music for the soundtrack.

The heroes and villains of the story are not always clear -- Gibson, for instance, runs afoul of the U.S. government after it begins importing rosewood, another vital ingredient, from Madagascar. At times the film borders on being overly sentimental, such as an interview with one veteran guitar-maker who says, “It’s all I’ve ever done … I’m unemployable.” But anyone who’s ever lovingly handled a beautifully made guitar will be made uneasy by this account of the embattled industry’s struggles.

Opens Nov. 1 (Helpman Productions)

Director: Maxine Trump

Producers: Josh Granger, Maxine Trump

Director of photography: Curt Wallin

Editor: Josh Granger

Not rated, 80 min.