Red Forest Hotel: Grounded for investigating greenwashing in China

China, an economic heavyweight – and an equally gigantic polluter – has set out to fight climate change using very efficient methods: a new climate programme has emerged, and a massive tree-planting project is part of it. What sounds like a potential way to be able to set an example conversely turns out to be of economic interest.

Finnish director Mika Koskinen is a cameraman based in Beijing, from where he sets out to investigate China's tree-planting campaign with the help of the Finnish forestry company Stora Enso. With his camera, he follows events involving classes from schools, companies and Chinese citizens who are answering their call of duty to plant trees. Up to that point, he encounters no problems with his own project: a documentary on the large-scale planting of trees in China.

It is only when he travels to Guangxi province in the south of China to meet lawyer Yang Zaixin that he gets into trouble. Another giant, Stora Enso, has started planting trees on an even larger scale in the region, and reports of violence being used to gain territory from local farmers leads Koskinen to contact the lawyer.

The meeting between the two opens up his documentary and clearly refocuses the angle of the film on the unavailability of Koskinen's interview partners, who disappear while he himself seems to be grounded in a hotel: the Red Forest Hotel. He chooses to continue filming and lets his camera roll secretly, much like a CCTV device. As he pretends not to understand, he films the conversations of the officials surrounding him, who are eager to keep him at bay. The atmosphere is tense as they try to keep him busy with dinners whilst he awaits his official permits to shoot interviews with local farmers, and they also prevent him from conducting any further investigations. When he eventually succeeds in talking to the local farmers one year later, in a second attempt, Stora Enso’s objective and the problems caused by this campaign begin to surface more and more.

Red Forest Hotel had its premiere in 2011 in the Green Screen Docs Competition at IDFA and is now available via VoD in the Docs from Around the World collection on Walk This Way. It has been available since 15 May in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Turkey and Luxembourg.

30 June 2015, by Cineuropa