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Contemporary Wales
Contemporary Wales

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9.1.1 Wales at the Oscars

In terms of Welsh language cinema, it is perhaps less well known than it might be that two films made in the Welsh language were nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language category during the 1990s. These were Hedd Wyn (dir. Paul Turner, 1992) and Solomon and Gaenor (dir. Paul Morrison, 1998). In some ways the very fact of the two films receiving the global attention that comes with ‘Oscar’ nomination is a significant moment for the representation of Wales internationally. It not only signalled the existence of a significant and distinct filmmaking culture in Wales, but also drew attention to the Welsh-language as not only alive, but thriving and being used in contemporary art forms.

Both films also used language and its divisive potential as part of their subject. In Hedd Wyn, the central character, the Welsh poet Elis Evans (Huw Garmon) is conscripted into the British army to fight in the First World War. During his basic training, Evans’s use of his native Welsh is the subject of scorn and abuse by English officers and NCOs, something which the film turns to powerful ironic effect as the young poet dies in the service of the British Empire at Pilken Ridge in Belgium in 1918. Solomon and Gaenor’s use of language is even more complex, especially as two versions were made ‘back-to-back’ – one predominantly in English, one mainly in Welsh, though the complexity is further compounded by the use of Yiddish in both versions as the film is set at the times of anti-Semitic-related civil disturbance in the South Wales Valleys. The film has resonance not only for a bi-lingual Wales, but for a UK that struggles with the many different ethnicities and languages that make up its population.

It is possible to argue then that both these films made contributions to how both Wales and the Welsh language were seen internationally, though their relatively limited distribution in the UK restricted this effect.