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Director and tree planter, Adam Humphreys didn't think he would end up married in New York city by age 27. He also didn't think he had what it would take to make his debut documentary, Franz Otto: Ultimate Highballer. Somehow, he pulled it off. Humpreheys, who is a West Vancouver native, graduated from the University of Victoria then, moved East to New York City to complete his MA at the New School. It was there that he learned the basics in film editing and directing. During his twenties he spent the summers tree planting. Humphreys became known as a "highballer", someone who plants more trees than anyone else on the camp. Fueled by competition and weeks without showering, Humphreys found that tree planting was one of the only jobs he could manage to keep. Digging holes in the soil became his bread and butter (and bacon). After earning some extra cash working at a clothing store in New York, Humphreys purchased a video camera and decided he would document a quest he had long been curious about: to find the tree planting world's urban legend highballer, Franz Otto. Humphreys film follows the journey of finding Franz Otto Sameit and uncovering his mysterious legacy.

We caught up with Adam Humphrey's to talk about his new film, Franz Otto: Ultimate highballer, and what it's like to go from living in the bush to living in Brooklyn. Read all about it below.

Director Adam Humphreys, photo by Jonathan Black

Why Franz Otto?

He's like Paul Bunyan. Half "The Best Ever" and half "The Ultimate Embodiment of Badass". I first read about him on this website called, "The Tree Planter Hall of Fame". My goal was to find him and understand what it was about him that made him legendary. It seemed like he was bigger than tree planting, bigger than reality and a part of me was very drawn to him. He seemed like a comic book hero. I started pursued him through message boards online. After a while I quit my job and focused on filming him. I returned to New York, worked for two months in the store and then, went back to Canada and my friend Peter Le and I drove around for three weeks interviewing people. I edited the film back in New York while working at the store.

What happened when you finally got in contact with Franz?

It was strange. He was flattered, kind of ambivalent. I was scared and nervous. He picked me up in a taxi in Prince George [where he was planting trees] and we got drunk together. The next day, I threw up out the side of his truck while he was driving out to the block so that I could film him planting.

How did it feel to make your first film being somewhat of a rookie?

The hardest part was realizing that I could not make this searing and incredible "film of my dream." I originally told Franz, 'I want to make a film about you' over the phone. Someone had given me his number via email saying that they wanted to see [Franz] immortalized on film.

Are you happy with the documentary?

Yeah. I feel as though the film is actually a journey of discovery where as more films set out to relate something they already known or provide an argument. To me the film is about the legend and an impossible world view, desiring a better, more interesting world and self.

"Our documentary focuses on a lot of people who started the industry back in the 1970s, old men saying anti-corporate shit. It's about the subculture and it's folk hero."

And so you are married now and living in New York, how does your tree planting life survive?

Some of my best friends come from planting. I have people that come through [New York] and stay with me, but I also have "no future" so I always plan on going back to tree planting to pay bills and break things up in my life. My wife doesn't like it because I go away for a long time. I can only call her once every week or so when we are in the bush camps. I suck at working real jobs though. I always get fired or quit. Tree planting makes sense to me.

So, tree planting is something for the unemployable?

It's for misfits, drug addicts, weirdos, incompetent people, French Canadians. It's like Burning Man, you know, "travelers" and philosophical backpackers, sport jocks who "live to climb mountains and do karate"and artists who hate commerce. Yann Martel and Gavin McInnes were tree planters.

Do people get laid while tree planting?

Yes, almost everybody. They usually hire a fair balance of men and women. People who would never get laid outside of a tree planting camp get laid. Getting laid is usually based on status. Everyone is dirty [literally]. People only get to shower once a week, they sweat all day and are covered in dirt.

Did you ever have any wilderness hook ups?

No, I always had a serious girlfriend so, I just observed. Things happened that seemed really incredible and terrible at the time, but not so much anymore like being injured, having your tent flood, bugs, bears, bad food and interpersonal conflict.

You don't strike me as someone who fits into the tree planting world.

Well, I am angry. I hate society. I like experiencing physical pain and I have a problem with authority.

Franz Otto, Ultimate Highballer will screen at Chelsea's PPOW Gallery on December 11th at 8pm. In addition to the film, the space will host photograph's from Sarah Anne Johnson's "Tree Planting Series" 2004.

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3 Responses to “Ultimate Highballer”

  1. terence blow says:

    guy seems interesting but like maybe he should find himself

    good questions though, i like where you’re going

  2. jt says:

    nice writing, should probably figure out the difference between possessive and plural

  3. rfw says:

    I knew Franz-Otto and his family when he was growing up in Canada, riding horses. His dad was a horse trainer. I am glad he found something to do with his hands.

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