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Saving Mr. Charlie's Trees

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Hi, my name is Aliss Valerie Terrell and I'm raising funds to pay for a journey to save Mr. Charlie's trees. I'm US writer and filmmaker, now based in Paris, France. Charles Terrell was my uncle and a second father to me, a dirt-poor southern dropout who rose from extreme poverty to plant a million trees and create a 1000-acre tree farm and wildlife sanctuary he left to the University of Georgia for safekeeping. Unfortunately, UGA began selling off the bequest in 2020, most of it to lumber companies.
Thanks to your donations, I traveled with Valentine Terrell-Monfeuga to the UGA campus in August to interview representatives of UGA and a leading forest activist, exploring ways to honor this bequest and inspire action for trees and climate justice. Thanks to your donations, I have completed the preview/trailer now online! (see below)
Thanks to your donations, I just traveled to North Carolina in May for a filmmaking conference to find funding and distribution for the documentary. Recap:
Thanks to your donations, I just attended the Sunny Side international doc fest and market. Recap:
Saving Mr. Charlie's Trees, Preview (English and French subtitles)

Charlie in his own words:
Mr. Charlie, as he was called, was my father's older brother and a huge presence in my life. I captured his story and persona on film during one of our summer visits just before he planted his millionth seedling. Eldest son of a backwoods preacher-carpenter-share cropper, he was an adventurer who lived for the sea, opera, poetry, gin and love, with only one true religion: trees.
Charlie was born in 1917 in Coosa County, Alabama, when the Deep South was still reeling from the Civil War. Fleeing the Boll Weevil and Spanish flu, his family migrated to South Georgia looking for better prospects. Charlie grew up there against a backdrop of economic hardship and hellfire fundamentalism. When he was 12, his father took a carpentry job far away, leaving Charlie the heavy responsibility of managing the fields and farm animals. To earn extra money for the family, Charlie worked on big holdings whenever he could. It was a hard life. As a teen in the early 1930’s, Charlie left school and ran away to join the Navy. Serving in what he called the “Banana Fleet,” he discovered Latin America and poker, while training to accomplish his childhood ambition of becoming a master deep-sea diver. Towards the end of WWII, he suffered a serious injury on an underwater salvage mission and was sent home, beginning another metamorphosis.
Back in the States, he married Miss Margaret, the love of his life, earned his high school equivalency in one year at a New York City prep school, was accepted at MIT and, in 1951, received his civil engineering degree with credits in soil mechanics, all on the GI Bill.
During the post-WWII economic boom, he had a successful career on salvage and infrastructure projects, but the environmental devastation caused by unchecked commercial development wore him down. In the mid-1950’s, he quit, returned to his home town, and bought a cabin in the middle of a swamp. He began buying up parcels of land abused and eroded by over-farming. He and Miss Margaret planted the first of many trees to reclaim and restore the soil. They took turns driving the tractor and placing the seedlings in the furrows by hand.
This is where my path and Charlie’s crossed. My dad, Charlie’s youngest brother, was a Korean War vet with PTSD, often hospitalized. Charlie and Margaret, who couldn't have children of their own, took me in and I experienced their world. Charlie read me poetry after chores in the evening and played his favorite operas for me. A life-long bond was formed.
Miss Margaret lost her battle with cancer in 1980, sending Charlie into a deep depression. In time, his own health deteriorated and he was no longer able to be the land steward he once was. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 86.
At a time when reforestation is a necessity for our survival, Charles Terrell is one of the world's unsung eco-heroes. With his bare hands, he reclaimed exhausted over-farmed land, creating lakes and planting trees, ultimately bequeathing a 1000-acre tree farm and wildlife refuge to the University of Georgia Foundation. In April 2020, the Foundation began selling off the land, promising to use the profits to fund environmental fellowships. Will they keep their promise? I've become involved in pursuing conservation easements to preserve the bequest. I'm developing a documentary to retrace Charlie’s hero journey, a uniquely American story, its potential positive outcomes and hopes for our global future, narrated in his own unique voice and mine, expanded by interviews with international conservation experts and activists for climate justice. An immersive, authentic, thought-provoking human saga, it asks important questions and provides inspiration for the future.
The documentary will highlight the Dogwood Alliance and others who champion Southern forests and climate justice, feature interviews with activists from front-line communities bearing the effects of the pellet industry and massive deforestation in the south while working to save Southern forests and old-growth forests everywhere---a inspiring message from these new land stewards for young people and everyone frozen in climate anxiety. For an international perspective, I will also include interviews with European climate activists and forest advocates.

Will Mr. Charlie's land be broken up and developed? Sacrificed to industrial logging? What happened to Mr. Charlie's bequest is part of a much larger problem in a system of social and ecological imbalance we can change with new economic models that meet the unprecedented challenges of our time.
Aliss Terrell, writer-director


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Aliss Terrell

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