SHE’S a great believer in the redemptive power of nature and now filmmaker Vivienne DeCourcy is bringing some of that philosophy to her first feature film.
Shot partly on the shores of Roaring Water Bay in West Cork, Dare To Be Wild tells the story of how gardener Mary Reynolds caused a stir when she became Ireland’s first gold medal winner at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show in 2002.
Reynolds did so, not by creating elaborate manicured landscapes or colossal greens, but by being unconventional. The wild garden, home to common weeds and a fairy mound, became beloved and was described as “like a piece of Ireland”.
Now Reynolds’ story comes to the big screen courtesy of DeCourcy, who hopes it will help us embrace our wild side. After working in law and finance for many years, it’s the movie she has long dreamed of making.
“I was always very interested in the whole philosophy behind Gaia theory, that the earth is a simple organism that will self correct if you give it a chance,” she says.
“I lived in Chicago for about 20 years, really the majority of my working life. While I was there, in 1993, I got breast cancer.”
During time out for treatment, she decided to take on a passion she had long harboured a yearning for.
“I decided I was going to really investigate screenwriting. I bought books and I just started to study it. The first screenplay I wrote is set in Chicago, where we’re trading in oxygen and oxygen has become the dominant commodity. I love history and science fiction. I don’t know how I thought I was going to be directing it but I thought that was what I really wanted to do,” she says now.
Years later, a chance meeting with Reynolds in West Cork saw these kindred spirits meet, and gave DeCourcy the idea for her first film.
“I’d tried to get other landscape designers to do a design for me that I’d themed ‘Celtic Zen’. I wanted a fairy glade, I wanted wild planting and I didn’t want any right angles, and I wanted the garden to articulate into the landscape and beyond over Roaring Water Bay. Somebody said to me: ‘You want Mary Reynolds’. And up rocked Mary Reynolds one fine day.
“I gave her my design brief. She said most people don’t give her a design brief, which amazed me. I’m obsessed with all kinds of design, it kind of relaxes me, the way watching sport relaxes men. The design that Mary gave me was so literally beyond my wildest dreams.”
Reynolds’ story is about to hit the big screen. Dare To Be Wild - starring rising talents Emma Greenwell and Tom Hughes - shows how our plucky heroine overcomes class, convention and financial constraints to show the world the power of wild nature.
Without, initially, a sponsor and with the help of an eclectic team of botanists and artisans dubbed the ‘Green Angels’, she has just three weeks to bring her unproven wild design to the greatest gardening challenge on the world stage.
Mary and Vivienne are currently working on Vivienne’s garden in West Cork with the much-loved workers behind Future Forests plant nursery. “The Future Forest people are rebuilding the garden, for the third time, on this little property that I have. We’ve got to do it in 10 days, so we’re having hilarious conversations.
“Mary has written this book called Garden Awakening. It’s a how-to of forest gardening, which has a lot of ideas about how you can invite wild nature back into your own life. From my own childhood, I always loved being in nature. My father used to bring me on nature study walks.
“Going back to West Cork, we used to walk a lot in the mountains there. It was so lush and so beautiful that it kind of never left me. And when I went to America and lived in a high-rise for 20 years… you’d wonder how people can be happy when they don’t have trees around them.”
PASSION FOR NATURE
For DeCourcy, who also loved the landscape where she grew up near Lough Ree in the Midlands, her passion for nature is writ large in her film, and she hopes it’s a philosophy that will resonate with moviegoers.
“I wanted to do a film that really made you feel nature, and feel the importance of nature,” she explains. “I think we are meant to be near real nature, proper nature, not manicured nature. People travel the world over to get to places of untouched natural beauty. If more people got to walk in the wild a few times a week, there wouldn’t be half the aggro, half the wars that there are. Less guns more trees — that’s my motto!” she laughs.
An entirely self-taught filmmaker, DeCourcy has written about 15 screenplays over the past two decades and as well as reading about the filmmaking process avidly, recalls spending days watching Neil Jordan direct Michael Collins on the streets of Dublin.
“I sat behind him and watched him for about three days. Then I literally got books and I studied it. I think the first film I’d seen, as a small child with my father, was in the Ritz Cinema in Athlone, called How The West Was Won. There was a buffalo charge in that film, and I remember asking him afterwards, how did they do those shots? Where were the cameras?
“Even though I was doing something different in my day jobs, in my mind I was always directing films. And I always thought that somehow, someday, I would get to do it, though I didn’t think it would take me till my fifties to do so.”
She’s now working on her next film, called Breathe, which finally sees her honing that first screenplay that she wrote while having her breast cancer treatment in Chicago. “It’s about what will happen in our world, if we choose to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the philosophies of the Mary Reynolds of this world.”
While she’s currently based in London, every opportunity she gets, DeCourcy dares to be wild by returning to her West Cork base.
“When I get to Cork and I drive out under the big train line that looks like a Roman aquaduct, my heart just leaps for joy, because I’m going back to West Cork! I’m really emotional about it, I absolutely love the place. And why wouldn’t I — I feel very privileged that I’m able to go there at all.”
- Dare To Be Wild is in cinemas from September 23