"The Ancient Woods" is a gorgeous and unusual documentary that takes viewers into an old-growth forest in Lithuania.
If you're not already schooled in the wildlife of the area, you won't know what type of bird or snake you're looking at — director and cinematographer Mindaugas Survila doesn't provide any captions or narration. That's the "gorgeous" and "unusual" part.
It's not strictly "slow TV," in the sense of those seven-hour documentaries of a train ride in Europe, but it assumes the quiet but bustling rhythm of its landscape.
The only human presence comes from a farmer who makes two brief appearances. Outside of that, Survila throws viewers into an immersive experience with a rhythm of its own as birds, insects, rodents, snakes and deer feed, flee and fight, accompanied only by the silence of the woods itself. There's no score to attach human emotions to what you're seeing.
If you're going to go this far into the art for art's sake, the pictures have to be great, and they are. In what appear to be close-up time lapse images, spiders and insects emerge from melting snow. In one long sequence, what appear to be two large turkeys approach each other, hypnotically craning their necks. It's not a dance, it's the prelude to a fight, and when it begins in earnest, Survila crops out the violence with trees, leaving only the loud cracking sound as the birds whale on each other. Then he points the camera away entirely to examine two small badgers who seem curious about the noise but too busy with their own lives.
Some of the interactions have a storybook-like quality, such as a snake carefully approaching a rodent who doesn't seem to sense the danger. Judging from Survila's website, he had to build a blind to capture footage of three owlets occupying a nest in the top of a standing dead tree.
As a whole, the film reminds you of being in the woods on your own before the smartphone era, when any questions about what you're looking at were unanswerable, and you're drawn into the experience itself rather than documenting it or researching it on the spot.
If you're interested in that kind of immersion, "The Ancient Woods" is a trip worth taking.