CHRISTOPHER THOMSONTHE NEW WILD

                           

[coming soon]

The New Wild: 
Life in the Abandoned Lands 
 

 Satellite images describe the Aupa valley as a wash of deep greens, barely interrupted save for rough outcrops of rocky grey that suggest even less hospitable terrain. This is a rugged, mountainous valley at odds to the smooth, flat exploration of a screen scrolled, and hidden beneath the dense foliage of these conjured forests are surprises and questions. If this first, distant glance enchants with its suggestion of wilderness, a series of clues at ground level hint at something even more dramatic, of a great metamorphosis, and a complicated story. 

Fox, badger, deer, lynx, chamois, wild pig, bear: they roam a territory reinvented, a habitat that simply didn’t exist forty years ago. The fields of before, choked of light, have largely withered, reduced to small islands, where only the tougher grasses have survived. The impressionist colours of wild flower and butterfly have faded, waiting dormant on the new forest floor as seed and possibility. An ecosystem that thrived on human presence, on the marginal that our activity creates, has been replaced with another that depends on a more expansive environment: upon our relinquishment. If popular ideas of wilderness have tended to invoke the primaeval, a land before rather than after, then what of these new abandoned landscapes? 

This is the New Wild. 

The speed with which the forest has reclaimed the land could be viewed as something of a spectacle, but it would be wrong to think that the land has returned to what it once was. Although this is a domineering expression of nature and an authentic rewilding unplanned, our influence runs deep: everywhere is the indelible mark of humanity. Old ways and crumbling drystone walls lie dormant in the cool shade of the young canopy while their silent villages ruin gently, each crack an opportunity for the grappling root of some pioneer – there amongst the beech leaves a fallen chimney rolled down the mountain like so many boulders before it. Human presence lingers on into this wild breath as absence: palpable by the fallen shapes of settlements past; alluded to by the types of plants and the manner in which they are growing. This is a landscape shaped not just by our actions, but by our inactions too. 

The change has an emotional charge, bringing excitement and uncertainty, awe and melancholy, to some a richness, others a sense of poverty. Whilst the valley has lost the vast majority of its population to the life of greater convenience available downstream, not all have departed. There are those who live surrounded by the dynamic of these natural mechanisms, those who have witnessed these changes firsthand, watching the work of generations pulled down, the wheel of the watermill disintegrate, whilst schools and shops were forced to close one after the other. But despite this seemingly insuppressible momentum, some people chose to remain. And then, slowly, others chose to come... 

Nestling snugly with its vegetable gardens half way up the valley is the small village of Dordolla. Amongst its narrow lanes the chatter makes use of five languages, despite a mere fifty inhabitants, reflecting a history of migrations as well as new arrivals. There is an energy and sense of community here, a determination to keep rural, mountain life alive and meaningful in the 21st century. Traditional agriculture has been reintroduced on the steep slopes around the village, while a social life that centres around the bar has expanded into a full cultural calendar of concerts and theatre, exhibitions and festivities. “Dordolla non molla!” is cried in defiance: “Don’t let go of Dordolla!” Is this life in the abandoned lands a form of stubbornness? Bravura? Romance? Or is it something more? Is this a localised village of the past or the future? 

These are unique landscapes that still remind of somewhere else, unique narratives that still describe trends. Here, where the Latin, Germanic and Slavic cultures meet, is a small corner with reaching echoes. It has been estimated that in Europe, by 2030, an area the size of Poland will have been abandoned to this ‘New Wild’ as agriculture continues to be out-sourced further from the mouths that it feeds. The mountains, ever hostile to industrial farming techniques, are on the frontier of this transition and offer a glimpse not just as to how these rewilded landscapes might develop but also how we might respond and learn from them accordingly. 

This film will consider notions of wilderness within the context of rural flight and increasing urbanisation, debating our role and place within these new, expanding landscapes as we think increasingly critically about sustainable environments and food sovereignty. Should we celebrate the excitement and ecological potential of this new wildnerness? Or mourn the loss of local culture as the shift to consumer-friendly cities becomes total? As always the answers are far more complicated than simple polar posturing. 

This feature documentary will take us on a journey to explore the intrigue and beauty of this secretive environment, uncovering the timely questions it has to offer.