"it is brilliantly edited together, full of insight and you do get swept along with the passion the residents feel"

Climate activists have hardly been out of the news recently. From blocking roads to climbing on trains, the likes of Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil have raised awareness about their campaigns and prompted debate about rights to protest and the disruption it causes everyday people.

Yet one cause you may not be aware of rose up in the city of Sheffield back in 2016 and carried on over the following years. When Sheffield City Council signed a £2.2billion deal with private contractor Amey to fell thousands of the city’s seemingly healthy trees that resided next to many residential streets, the locals were understandably upset. There seemed to be little reason for the felling other than to ‘upgrade the city’s highways’ and when residents sought answers, none appeared to be forthcoming. 

They began to protest – as peacefully and legally as possible – with photographer Jacqui Bellamy capturing much of it on film. That footage forms the bulk of this passionate and heartfelt documentary, interspersed with talking heads of many of the key players explaining how and why events unfolded as they did.

It starts out as quite a simple and small protest but as things unfold it turns it something of a cat and mouse game between the two sides – on one hand the impassioned residents, on the other the council and the contractor – each trying various tactics to make things as difficult and awkward as possible for the other side. The higher the stakes, the more publicity the felling and protests got and the bigger the movement became.

Initially social media became a handy tool for the residents before it was used against them, prompting to make their communications more private and many of the messages are utilised here as a smart piece of exposition. The protests become more fractious with the council and Amey bringing in bouncers and at one point as many as 30 police officers turning up to ensure that laws are not, strictly, being broken. 

In the centre of it all are the trees, yet this soon becomes about more than just the issue but about the right to protest and big organisations of power trying to push (literally and figuratively) aside individuals in their way and avoid answering fairly straightforward questions that those who elected them and pay their wages wish to pose. ‘Why is this particular tree being felled?’ councillor Paul Billington is asked in one scene to which he fairly vaguely replies ‘Look at the website’.

It is oddly compelling viewing – initially a film of nearly two hours about people protesting trees being felled and shot largely on home cameras and smart phones might seem somewhat stretched. Yet it is brilliantly edited together, full of insight and you do get swept along with the passion the residents feel – not just towards the cause but the way they are looked at with contempt by elected individuals who appear to refuse to engage or respond to them. If there is a fault with the film itself it is that it is too one-sided, being told from the perspective of and by the people whom form the movement. Yet in one key scene, Billington is briefly asked for an interview to which he quickly responds ‘I don’t think so, no’.

Quite how the council could or would justify their actions is an unknown although you can read between the lines as corporate greed appears to be at play. Ultimately though, people power stands up to this, and the documentary is a testament to persistence and that in order for good to prevail, it ultimately takes good people to do something. Trees were felled, but people stood firm.