- Associated Press - Sunday, May 2, 2021

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) - Louisiana native Jenny Leigh Smith has spent the last two decades chipping away at her goal of planting 1 million trees in Costa Rica. “One Precious Life,” a film inspired by Smith’s reforestation effort is available at hivecreates.com.

Nathan Hirschaut, producer, said the film, shot over a two-week period in Costa Rica, is aimed at inspiring people to be more environmentally conscious.

“We’re not shouting statistics to you,” he said. “We’re trying to make a large issue of environmental work very personal by getting to the root of Jenny’s individual story. This is about how you find your service and discover the part of you that feels the most alive.”

A native of Baton Rouge, Smith spent eight years practicing law in Lafayette before moving to Costa Rica in 1998. Since then, more than 600,000 trees have been planted there, with only the surviving trees being counted, she said.

All of the labor that goes into planting and caring for the trees is compensated. Smith created the nonprofit, Community Carbon Trees, 17 years ago to ensure those doing the work would be paid. Trees are cared for 4-6 years after they are planted, she said.

Smith began planting trees in the private sector, but that work eventually showed the need for reforestation in impoverished areas, she said.

“It just felt necessary to deal with the deeper root of our problem, with deforestation being linked to poverty,” she said.

Anywhere from 150 different kinds of biodiverse native trees are planted per project, Smith said. Every farm that is worked on is owned by Costa Rican families, she said. Donated funds are not used to purchase land.

“It creates these relationships with these families,” Smith said. “Children are witnessing their parents regenerate the land.”

Hirschaut and Smith met last March during a yoga pilgrimage in Egypt. It didn’t take long for the film project to get off the ground.

“It was like a date with destiny,” Smith said.

Hirschaut, whose father was a conservationist, said nature has been a large part of his life. His goal is to create innovative work that promotes social activism. However, “One Precious Life” differs from the typical pro-environment documentaries.

“It’s a story of how an older self passes wisdom and love and service to nature to the younger self,” he said. “It’s also how the younger self questions its purpose in life, as well as the role service and vocation and how being in nature can tune us into our inner nature.”

The film has already reached nearly 75 percent of its $10,000 fundraising goal, Hirschaut said. All of the funds coming from ticket sales will go back to Smith and Community Carbon Trees.

Hirschaut credited Smith’s long-standing reputation as a leader in environmental and social justice work as a major factor in the amount of support for the project.

“We’ve basically just hooked onto her following and we’re inspiring them to do more through creating the (film),” he said.

Smith said the film has brought support from people she met years earlier.

“It’s been a beautiful thing to witness,” she said. “Part of what we want to do is just really inspire and help people remember that the little things count. My philosophy has been that every single tree and person makes a difference. If enough of us collectively give back, we can reforest all through the tropical region.”

Hirschaut said he plans to submit “One Precious Life” to film festivals, museums and streaming services.

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