- Contemporary Issues, Human Interest, Environment, Nature, and Public Affairs
While there has been an extraordinary renaissance in films about the environment in recent years, very few have tackled the urgent issue of the politics of place. Irreplaceable takes a lyrical and cinematic approach to exploring the vital ties that exist between people, place and the natural world. Whether it’s ancient woodlands or inner-city allotments, the vast prairies of the American midwest or tropical coral reef, the film will explore connections to places, focusing on community – both human and wild – and the interwoven threads of belonging. By telling the stories of those digging-in to preserve a local treasure under threat from development, Irreplaceable will be a compelling call to resistance. Here, if you will, is a nature documentary with humans as the subject matter.
- Show treatment
“After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.”
- Gerard Manley Hopkins
We live in an age of loss. Whether we choose to describe it as the Sixth Extinction or the Anthropocene, there's simply no getting around it. Rarely a day passes when we don’t hear about a place being threatened by development and learn of local people attempting to raise awareness of its qualities and significance in an effort to save it. Irreplaceable is both timely and essential in the current political climate of HS2, and the face of routine flouting of environmental laws to make way for development. It will be a hymn to the unique wonders of places, as well as a celebration of our human connections to them. While the film will be political in its concerns and scope, raising the possibility of resistance to this age of loss, ultimately we aim to encourage people to more closely engage with the places around them.
Whether it be people who dance English traditional dances because they happen to come from a small village in Oxfordshire (Way of the Morris), a Sussex singer whose songs are rooted in the history of her county of birth (The Ballad of Shirley Collins), a poet whose work is inspired by the Appalachian landscape he grew up in (Matter is a Relative Matter), our documentary work to date has always focused on place, and its significance to the people who inhabit it. This film will take this focus to the next level, exploring not just why a place matters to our subjects, but how far they will go to protect it.
Significantly, the narratives within Irreplaceable concern people without any particular investment in the environment beyond their own deep love and concern for where they live. Our characters aren’t biologists, scientists or legal experts, and none of them are what you might regard as career eco-activists. Instead, they are ordinary people from those local communities with the most to lose, and their personal stories of attachment allow us to better understand what it is that’s at stake whilst helping to paint a wider picture of the perilous political climate we inhabit.
Up and down the country, ancient woodlands are being designated as SSSIs, which is meant to give them some protection from development. How, then, do developers routinely flout the designations and build on them anyway? Conversely, brownfield sites, such as abandoned quarries and mothballed military bases, are scattered about Britain. These culturally peripheral places are predominantly regarded as wasteground and public eyesores, and yet these forgotten locations often exist as islands of diversity in a sea of increasing biological paucity. So how is it that these sites, despite their huge importance to our native flora and fauna, rarely have any designation or protection at all?
And what of the palliatives offered by government and developers? The architects of HS2 are proposing to plant hundreds of hectares of new forest to replace the 108 ancient woodlands that are to be bulldozed to make way for a concrete tunnel from Birmingham to London. This increasingly common practice is known as Biodiversity Offsetting, a scheme which completely overlooks the role of place, while ignoring the absurdity of asking wildlife to simply move from one site to another, and the fundamental impossibility of planting new ‘ancient woodland’.
While only 2% of the UK is now covered by ancient woodland, a staggering 500 such sites are currently under threat from rampant development. But our story does not focus solely on rural areas. The squeeze on open space in towns and cities is even more intense, while the need for them is arguably even greater. They serve not only as habitats for wildlife, but also as places that can foster social cohesion and individual wellbeing. The urban stories in particular demonstrate the role of nature in mental health, especially in children.
Finally, Irreplaceable will highlight the impact of mass extinctions on our landscapes. Again, rather than just cataloguing the litany of losses, the film will look at the impact of these losses on a specific area, arguing that the loss of the nightingale is as significant as the loss of a listed building or famous landmark that we go to great lengths to preserve. Ultimately, while the film deals with very literal extinction, it distinguishes itself by seeking to document the extinction of experience.
With all that said, this is not a film that merely presents a series of small but significant catastrophes, but one that offers a new philosophy of radical hopefulness and transformative change. It documents the significance and meaning of place, and the way that humans, wildlife and landscape are all inextricably linked, and mutually dependent on each other for wellbeing. It also presents a progressive vision of conservation, which isn’t just about preserving the status quo. Our characters live in the real world, and, like them, Irreplaceable doesn’t posit that all change is bad, just that we need to work for change that is good, and improves rather than diminishes the world we live in. Our characters all believe this is possible, and are examples to us all in pursuing it. Or in the words of Noam Chomsky: “If you assume there’s no hope, then you guarantee there’s no hope.”
- in development
- Paul Williams ... Producer
- Rob Curry ... Director
- Tim Plester ... Director
- Julian Hoffman ... Co-Producer
- Prod. Co.
- Fifth Column Films
- United Kingdom
- Years of Production
- UK, USA, GREECE, ASIA
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