my beloved angel oak

angel oak

“The plight of Charleston’s grand old oak trees, constantly threatened by development, was put on full, naked display earlier this year when California-based photographer Jack Gescheidt came to Johns Island to photograph the famed Angel Oak. But a pastoral still image was not what Gescheidt was seeking. He was incorporating the tree into his “TreeSpirit Project,” which consists of traveling the country to photograph endangered trees with one or more nude models strategically placed in or around them.

Gescheidt and the two dozen or so models were almost arrested at the shoot, which took place in May 2011. The TreeSpirit Project and Gescheidt’s shoot and near-arrest will be incorporated into a documentary film titled Out On A Limb. The film, the photographers, and the filmmakers are coming to Charleston for an event they’re calling “Charleston’s Angels,” scheduled for 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 3 at the Terrace Theater on Maybank Highway.

Charleston’s Angels attendees will be invited to get a close look at the filmmaking process, see fascinating footage from the May shoot, and have a fun night of presentations and discussion with local community activists supporting the Angel Oak. Organizers say the evening is aimed at those who want to know more about the documentary filmmaking process up close, and learn about the film festival circuit and independent film; those who love art, photography, and creative projects that seeks to apply art in meaningful ways; and people with a particular appreciation for the Angel Oak and want to help in its preservation, as well as trees like it facing the same threats from industrial growth.

The documentary is currently in production, and promises to be a visually compelling and fascinating story about Gescheidt’s TreeSpirit Project, which goes around the country to make his community photographs, potent artistic statements that address critical planetary issues––the environment, preserving open space, and deforestation and it’s impact on climate change. They’re meant to inspire our own ability to reconnect with nature and with ourselves. The film shows how Charleston is a microcosm of many communities around the country – and planet – that struggle to find common ground between the needs of “progress” and the virtues of preservation.

The filmmakers describe their endeavor as equal parts adventure story, activism, and art film, following Gescheidt’s journey to diverse locations with beloved ancient trees, including the redwood forests of Northern California, the oak groves of the southeast, and to New York’s Central Park. The film also centers around the project’s adventurous and diverse participants, as well as celebrities noted for their involvement in environmental issues, and scientific experts who discuss the value of reconnecting physically, emotionally and spiritually with nature, seeking sustainable solutions to our current environmental crisis.

“It’s all about connecting with the trees, and in this case, specifically with this tree,” says Gescheidt in reference to his shoots and the shoot at the Angel Oak, which sits near a new planned unit development of 600 homes. “(The goal is) to draw attention through press, and every other means we can to challenge the sanity of a development right near this tree at such a scale.”

Terrace Theater’s owners jumped at the chance to bring this work-in-progress to their James Island theater. The Terrace prides itself on being a kind of learning lab for cinephiles in Charleston. The Charleston Angels event will offer that, along with a healthy dose of environmental consciousness.

“We feel that it is important to draw any and all attention to the preservation of the Angel Oak and other trees, and general, local environmental issues as well,” said Terrace co-owner Paul Brown.”

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