Judi Dench already has an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and 13 BAFTAs, but there’s one award she’s never won: the Wildscreen Panda Award, the ‘Green Oscars’ of the international wildlife film and TV industry.
This may change this month, as she’s nominated as Best Presenter for Judi Dench: My Passion For Trees, now first and only on Showmax in South Africa. In her first ever documentary, Judi embarks on a magical journey to uncover the mysteries about one of her greatest passions: trees.
“My life now is just trees. Trees and champagne,” says Judi. ““I shall give up acting and lecture on trees, quite soon.”
Judi has long been fascinated with trees; ever since she was a child she has objected to anyone cutting them down. She shared her passion for trees with her late husband, the actor Michael Williams, and together they turned her six-acre garden into their own arboretum. For the past seven years she has continued to care for this woodland with her close companion, wildlife enthusiast David Mills.
Throughout this time, Judi has continually planted and named trees for dear friends and family who have passed, like Natasha Richardson and Alan Rickman.
“Planting trees is about remembering, and something that is living, that goes on,” says Judi. “So you don’t just remember loved ones and stop, you remember them and the memory goes on, and it gets more wonderful.”
In the documentary, Judi talks to some of the best tree scientists and historians in the world to unlock the remarkable secret lives of trees. With the latest scientific techniques and equipment at her disposal, she is able to truly understand how trees work, and gain an insight into their secrets.
For example, she uses a specially designed microphone to hear the trees around her pulsing with life, as water rushes up the trunks to the newly unfurled leaves, while 3D scanning technology allows her to see her favourite oak in a new light – revealing the fact that it is 200 years old, with 260 000 leaves and over 12km of branches. And by analysing NASA satellite imagery, Judi discovers just how effective trees are as carbon capture machines that are fighting to protect our planet.
“By combining cutting-edge filming techniques with real science, we helped Judi experience a side to trees that few people have ever seen before,” says producer Anthony Geffen. “Most of us pass trees every day and never give them a second thought. This film challenges us on that.”
Judi also investigates the very foundation of trees – their roots – learning about an intricate underground fungi network that connects many trees in a forest together, an incredible system known as the ‘wood wide web.’
She learns more about how trees can communicate and contribute to the forest, sharing resources with seedlings or the vulnerable. It’s confirmation for Judi that trees aren’t just trees, they are a real community that help each other, humans and the planet.
“When I plant trees in memory of my friends, I always hope that they would feel part of a community. That they would be communicating with each other,” says Judi. “And now, it’s so reassuring to find out that it’s true.”
Judi Dench: My Passion For Trees is made by the multi-BAFTA and Emmy award-winning team behind BBC hits such as Inside the Commons, David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef, and Galapagos.
“Working with Judi on her first documentary has been an absolute delight,” says Anthony. “Audiences will experience a side to Judi they won’t have ever seen before: her love for trees, her passion for learning and her wonderful sense of humour.”
“I shall never be able to walk nonchalantly through a woodland again without thinking about all of the incredible work that is going on under there,” says Judi. “We think we live in a society, but it is no comparison to what goes on between trees, and how these chaps live. It’s mind-blowing. It’s wonderful and very exciting. I don’t know how I lived so long without knowing more about my passion, but I know now.”