Ffynh 2I

By the mid-1980s a new era was opening for film makers in Wales, one in which television companies worked together with independent producers and directors. The English-language films of Karl Francis were the most widely distributed but the period was dominated by Welsh-language directors such as Endaf Emlyn whose Hedd Wynn was nominated for a Hollywood Academy Award in 1994. Ironically it was an American director, who later went on to make the very successful Coming up Roses, who first proved that the world was ready for Welsh-language cinema:

Welsh Voices: An American in the Valleys

The director Stephen Bayly pays the rent on his sleek Covent Garden office with television commercials: he aims to do six a year (Vick’s, the decongestant people, were recent clients). His heart, however, or at least a large part of it, is in the financially more constrained world of Welsh film-making, and he is modestly proud that his Aderyn Papur (... And Pigs Might Fly), which was shown at last year’s London Film Festival, having picked up a raft of international awards, was the first subtitled Welsh-language feature shown on English television (Channel 4, 28 February). The BBC, he hopes, will shortly bestir itself and put out a subtitled version of his wartime drama series for S4C, Joni Jones. Bayly, an American long resident in Britain, and the Welsh producer Linda James founded the London-based production and distribution company Red Rooster Films two years ago. Their first feature, Aderyn Papur (literally ‘Paper Bird’), found two mysterious Japanese arriving in a North Walian village and raising the hopes of a boy, whose dad is jobless and whose mother, as a result, has decamped to Liverpool, that work might, magically, be about to materialize. The Japanese, incidentally, who have no English, are utterly flummoxed by the Welsh and their language.

The company’s second Welsh movie, The Works, which is now editing, again deals with work and the spectre of unemployment. It stars Dafydd Hywel, Brinley Jenkins and Iola Gregory (who has appeared in all three of Bayly’s Welsh ventures); and, in the lead, Glenn Sherwood as a credulous youth embarking on his first job. Scripted in English by Kerry Crabbe and translated by Wilbert Lloyd Roberts (a veteran of the Welsh theatre), the story centres on a widget factory where computerisation threatens. It was shot double version chiefly in a gutted factory building in Aberdare, South Wales, at the end of last year.

The art director Hildegard Bechtler smartly transformed corners of the cavernous premises, but the overwhelming impression of the location, on a London visitor, was of chill desolation: an odd place to set a comedy.

‘The real factory, Heliwell’s, closed eight years ago,’ Bayly said. ‘It made exhaust pipes and was apparently doing well. But the owners decided to rationalize. The work was moved to another factory closer to the company’s English headquarters and the machinery was sold to South Africa. No new employer has come to Aberdare since then. There were disconcerting echoes of this in our own story. When we arrived, and word got about, queues of applicants formed for jobs we couldn’t provide ...’

Stephen Bayly takes a strong campaigning interest in Welsh film-making. He has been learning Welsh for several years (languages come fairly easily and, seated in front of a Steenbeck, he fluently translates some Welsh dialogue from The Works); and he has made representation to his alma mater, the National Film and Television School, about the training of Welsh technicians. He himself took The Works to S4C and Linda James extracted a ‘top whack’ budget of £220,000 from the Welsh channel (‘Film on Four’, if interested, might have paid more than £½ m) and then persuaded Channel 4, which had not previously co-financed a drama feature with its sister S4C, to top this up with £100,000 for the English-language version.

There are, Bayly said, unaccustomed pitfalls awaiting the film- maker in Wales. ‘One problem we had, shooting The Works double version, was welding a uniform English accent. Another was actually finding Welsh actors. There aren’t many, and they’re always in work. There are 43 speaking parts in The Works and I believe we employed every South Walian actor over the age of 40. One of the best jobs in the world is to be a Welsh actor.’

(John Pym, Sight and Sound, vol. 54, no. 2, Spring 1985 [Tip: daliwch Ctrl a chliciwch dolen i'w agor mewn tab newydd. (Cuddio tip)] )