Knepp ‘Wilding’ film in cinemas June 2024

Based on Isabella Tree’s best-selling book by the same title, the new documentary feature film about the story of rewilding Knepp releases in June.

Isabella Tree, as played by Rhiannon Neads, meets a Tamworth pig sow at Knepp
Isabella Tree (played by Rhiannon Neads) meets Tamworth pig at Knepp

Directed by five-time Emmy Award-winning David Allen, Wilding tells the story of a young couple that bets on nature for the future of their failing, four-hundred-year-old estate. The young couple battles entrenched tradition, and dare to place the fate of their farm in the hands of nature. Ripping down the fences, they set the land back to the wild and entrust its recovery to a motley mix of animals both tame and wild. It is the beginning of a grand experiment that will become one of the most significant rewilding experiments in Europe.

At Knepp Castle in Sussex, conservation pioneers Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell abandoned industrial farming practices and allowed nature to ‘rewild’ their 3,500-acre estate with remarkable results. Based on Isabella Tree’s bestselling book, Emmy-award winning nature documentarian David Allen’s ‘Wilding’ is a charming, hopeful story of ecological regeneration.

Influenced by rewilding projects in Europe, in particular by Dutch ecologist called Frans Vera, Charlie and Isabella Tree made it their goal to recover biodiversity and bring wildlife back to Knepp. In her words, the result of their experiment has gone “way beyond the expectations of any of the scientists or ecologists who were following it from the start”. Within twenty years, the land has gone from being a very depleted nature-poor system to being one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in Britain with some of the rarest species. “So it’s a huge story of hope”.

Inundated by approaches from numerous independent producers, film companies, and people wanting to do a film about Knepp’s story, the couple opted to work with David Allen. “We both really respect him as a brilliant filmmaker, but also as somebody intelligent and interesting who gets that big picture and is interested in nature, as well as the characters and the story arc and all that kind of thing”, explains Isabella Tree.

David Allen leads an award-winning film department at Passion Planet, focusing on natural history and factual output across both television and theatrical release documentaries. With five Emmys and twelve Wildscreen Pandas to his name, Allen is recognised as one of the leading independent producer/directors in his field. His production for BBC, My Life as a Turkey, was described by The Times, “as probably the best documentary of the year” and won Wildscreen’s coveted “Best of Festival” Golden Panda.

“Making films about our relationship with the wild, combining natural history with human drama, is what I have spent a lifetime trying to achieve. And it’s very rare to find such a compelling and dramatic story with uplifting conclusions which can really change the way we feel about the wild, so to find this archetypal narrative with two young protagonists, battling against the odds to discover something that can help restore this damaged world – this felt like something really special. The privilege of it all was often broached as a problem for a modern audience, but I felt there was also something compelling here, asking why such a grand experiment was left to them – why was this not happening anywhere else? Why were our institutions not daring to take this leap and see what happened? So, through this position of extreme privilege, seeing how a young couple dare to take on the establishment and dream up this grand experiment to discover a new way of looking at the world – this instantly struck me as a wonderfully cinematic story”, explains director, David Allen.

Inspired by her book, Allen explains that Isabella Tree is good at blending dramatic narrative with an evolving
argument fuelled by hard-fought, well-researched science fact. “So you get this wonderful trajectory of data showing a creeping understanding about the levels of destruction we have inflicted on the biodiversity all around us, combined with WTF moments of demonstrable transformation showing a way to reverse that terrible trend”, adds Allen.

The film score is by Biggi Hilmars and Jon Hopkins. Hilmars is from Iceland and Allen explains that his scores have an epic landscape quality to them that is “probably born out of such an evocative homeland”. Jon Hopkins is known for his mixture of sounds and collaborations with eminent musicians such as Brian Eno, Coldplay and King Kreosote. An elusive character, but Allen convinced him to take the job through the simple serendipity that his brother was a huge fan of the Knepp project. “There are not many people on the planet who can provide this kind of evocative modern soundtrack to the magic of rewilding”, explains Allen.

Wilding is produced by three-time Oscar-winning production company Passion Pictures; partnered with Oscar-nominated and Emmy and Peabody Award-winning HHMI Tangled Bank Studios whose most recent film All That Breathes won best documentary at Sundance, Cannes and the London Film Festival. The film was produced by london based nature history producer, Gaby Bastyra and photographed by multi- BAFTA & Emmy Award-winning cinematographers Tim Cragg and Simon de Glanville.