‘Tree Prophet’ Screening, Talk

A film about David Milarch by Christian Scheider and Tucker Marder
The filmmakers’ locations included the Inyo National Forest in California’s White Mountains, home of Methuselah, a bristlecone pine considered the oldest living tree on earth.

For more than 20 years, David Milarch has devoted his life to cloning and propagating ancient trees in an effort to restore old-growth forests and reduce the effects of climate change. The Sag Harbor Partnership, which has been engaged in its own restoration effort on behalf of the Sag Harbor Cinema, will present a screening of “The Tree Prophet,” a film about Mr. Milarch by Christian Scheider and Tucker Marder, on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor. A benefit for the partnership, the program will include a discussion with the filmmakers and the science writer Carl Safina.

Mr. Milarch’s crusade, which initially defied the prevailing scientific opinion that old-growth trees such as redwoods and sequoias could not be cloned, emerged from a vision he had in 1992, when he was so seriously ill that his heart stopped for 12 minutes. At various points in the 28-minute film he talks about the mission of his Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, which is based in Copemish, a small town in northern Michigan, in spiritual, even biblical, terms.

“We built this ark,” he says. “We’re leading the genetics of the greatest trees on earth two by two onto this ark for the same purpose Noah was instructed to lead the animals two by two.” Only 2 percent of original old-growth forests remain in the United States, and even fewer in the United Kingdom. “We’ve cut the mother trees — the best — and left the rest, the junk,” resulting in the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the depletion of oxygen in the planet’s oceans.

The tree archive has not only successfully cloned the world’s oldest and largest trees, it also created the first “super grove” of cloned coast redwoods and giant sequoias in Oregon. 

Mr. Milarch’s project came to the attention of the filmmakers, both of whom grew up on the East End, when the archive heard about the redwoods at the  LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton. 

“They were interested in trying to clone them because of their hardiness,” Mr. Marder said. “Normally, redwoods can’t live on the East Coast, but LongHouse has five that are about 30 feet high.” The archive contacted Charlie Marder of Marders nursery in Bridgehampton, “and David had an effect on my dad, who suggested Christian and I make a film about him.” Charlie and Kathleen Marder produced it.

“David is sort of a polarizing figure in the scientific community because he has an evangelical spirit,” said Mr. Scheider. “But he also has a hell of an idea when it comes to a scientific hypothesis that came to him not as a scholar but as a nurseryman from northern Michigan. His is a rare combination of a sort of born-again religious fervor and science. I think it’s a healthy marriage.”

The filmmakers spent 10 days in Copemish, where Mr. Milarch and his family live. They also traveled from Los Angeles to Portland, Ore., filming the oldest, tallest, and largest trees in the world.

“The Tree Prophet” was screened at the Santa Monica Film Festival and has been accepted by the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. In keeping with Mr. Milarch’s spiritual fervor, the film’s score, composed by Forrest Gray, consists primarily of choral singing and organ. The filmmakers hope to arrange a tour of the film to churches and other religious spaces around the country, where the score would be played by live church organ whenever possible.

Tickets for the screening and panel are $40; $150 includes admission to a reception with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres that will follow the panel at 6:30 at the Beebe House in Sag Harbor.