Monday, 24 December 2018

Another Pembrokeshire Film on the way......


This os one of three low-budget Welsh films due for completion next year.  This one is set in Pembrokeshire -- filming locations are not yet revealed, but from the name of the film we can assume that the toll gates on the Cleddau Bridge will probably feature........

The producer is Vaughan Sivell, from Western Edge Pictures, who was involved in the making of Third Star, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch -- that one was filmed largely around Barafundle Bay.  There are five executive producers -- let's hope that there are not so many cooks that the broth is spoiled......


Produced through Ffilm Cymru Wales’ Cinematic scheme, The Toll is a dark comedy thriller directed by Ryan Andrew Hooper and written by Matt Redd.

The film was shot entirely on location in Pembrokeshire in November, and is being produced by Vaughan Sivell (Prevenge, Pistorius) and Mark Hopkins for Western Edge Pictures.

The Toll stars Michael Smiley (Rogue One, Jawbone, Free Fire) as Brendan, alongside Annes Elwy (The Passing, Little Women), Iwan Rheon (Hurricane, Game of Thrones), Paul Kaye (The Ghoul), and Steve Oram (Sightseers, In Fabric).

Brendan works solo shifts in the quietest toll booth in Wales, hiding from a criminal past where nobody would ever look. When he finally gets rumbled, word of his whereabouts gets out and his enemies head west for revenge. Meanwhile, local traffic cop Catrin’s investigation into a simple robbery finds her heading for the booth at exactly the wrong time.

Making his feature film debut following his BFI NETWORK Wales-supported short Ambition, director Ryan Andrew Hooper comments “Our cast and our crew were amazing. Most directors think they have the best cast and crew, but I think we really did. I’ve wanted to be a film director since I was nine years old and to do so with such a great script and talented bunch of people was a privilege.”

Producer Vaughan Sivell adds: “Matt Redd’s script has attracted such a wealth of talent to the coast of Pembrokeshire. It’s definitely a tall tale worth telling.”

The Cinematic scheme is financed by Ffilm Cymru Wales and the BFI, with National Lottery funding, S4C, Great Point Media, and Fields Park Media Partners. Executive Producers on The Toll are Adam Partridge for Ffilm Cymru Wales, Mary Burke for the BFI, Gwawr Martha Lloyd for S4C, Jim Reeve for Great Point Media and Paul Higgins for Fields Park Media Partners.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Molesworth QC tells it like it is

Molesworth QC:

M’Lud, it falls to me (posh, eh?) to sumarise at the end of this unfortunate bisness. Any fule kno that Treesa May’s cuntry is not a pritty sight. It is splitt down the midle. Any fule also kno that Brexit will bring darkness and misry to the cuntry. I therfor ask you, M’Lud, to deklare it null and void, so that my grate frend Fotherington-Tomas may skip litely once again and cry out hapily “Helo trees! Helo sky! Helo sunshine!” M’Lud, I rest my kase.


This is fascinating -- from Bethan Harries, just published in Wales Arts Review.
I have to say that I find this article very persuasive -- the narrative portrayed in the series is certainly male, patronising and lacking in a proper critique of inequalities and exploitation from inside and outside Wales.  Bethan is concerned about exclusion and under-representation of "forgotten stories" and "forgotten individuals" including women, young people and immigrants from all over the world.  And yes, there should be a greater recognition of the diversity of Wales and less emphasis on trying to talk about "identity" and "nation".  I'm not sure that Huw Edwards should be blamed for fashioning the series or creating its mood -- he was after all just the presenter.  But food for thought.


Bethan Harries asks why the BBC chose to show The Story of Wales with Huw Edwards now; and shouldn’t it be consigned to the history bin of male-centric, exclusionist, whitewashing documentaries?

There was never going to be a good moment for the BBC to show a rerun of the series A Story of Wales, but in a period of growing volatility and visceral racism this overly narrow, a revisionist take of history appears more grotesquely out of place than ever.

The series, which is dubbed as the BBC’s take on Wales’ history and fits with the network’s almost compulsive fascination with identity and patrimony, adds to the growing catalogue of mainstream cultural outputs from across the UK that glorify a sense of purity, heritage and wholesome­ness which implicitly, and at times explicitly, attempt to signify who belongs and who does not (jus soli!). In this particular series we are subjected to a series of images of white men conquering lands and then singing, working, going to church and playing sport. Anyone who watches an episode will be able to count the number of women on one finger and there is no mention of Black Wales at all. An entire history denied. This is not a documentary but a series of PR clips.

In the latest episode (4 December, BBC Four), Huw Edwards presents the story of coal and slate from the middle of the 19thCentury, a period, he tells us, when a sense of Welshness becomes more clearly defined. The problems come at the outset and do not stop as Edwards talks us through the birth of the coal and slate industries, keenly expressed as evidence of Wales’ entrepreneurial majesty. A trip to Bethesda and the Penrhyn slate quarry at the beginning of the episode is, for example, given by way of introduction to the wealthy elites who ‘built Wales’. Here we might expect a critical reflection of what that means for the average person, and yet male workers are presented as gleefully taking up this hard labour under poor working conditions and low wages. It is not until much later in the episode that these issues are considered and only then through the lens of the labour movements that formed in south Wales. The Pennant family who own the quarry are ultimately portrayed as benevolent local heroes. And here is one of the most troubling aspects of the programme. Edwards’ visit to Penrhyn castle, the Pennant family home, sees him glorifying its gaudy opulence. The fact that the fortune came not solely from slate but from the slave plantations in Jamaica owned by the Pennant family is silenced. Also notably absent from the narrative is the fact that the 1stBaron Penrhyn, Richard Pennant MP, was an avid anti-abolitionist and a member of pro-slavery networks. Yet incredibly, amid this silence, Edwards asks us to instead “be fair” to Baron Penrhyn because his wealth changes the landscape of north Wales and gives local Victorian seaside resort towns a ‘makeover’.

Edwards then travels back down to Cardiff to the docks where coal from the south Wales valleys was being shipped out across the world. This booming industry resulted in substantial increases in migration to Wales, yet the programme cannot bring itself to discuss this in any meaningful way. We are told that the majority of migrants to Wales came from England, yet the docks and related industries were sites of immigration from all over the world. In the period under discussion Cardiff became home to many seamen from Yemen, Somalia, the Caribbean and elsewhere, many of whom were joining families that had already long been settled in Wales. By failing to acknowledge the presence of Black Welsh people the programme denies their very being and proffers an exclusively white Welsh identity. This is amplified later when Edwards bizarrely tells us we ‘mustn’t be blinded by nostalgia’ which ironically only draws attention to the programme’s blindness to its own production of nostalgia through a whitewashed romanticised depiction of Wales.

The series also suffers from the same issue that many contemporary documentaries on Wales does in that it adopts an approach that seems desperate to cover the scale of Wales rather than go into depth on any one thing. Consequently, Huw Edwards jumps around from Cardiff, Llandinam, the Rhondda, Bethesda, Bangor, Llandudno and Aberystwyth all in a matter of minutes. The tendency to cover ‘all’ of Wales is redolent of a wider problem. Post-devolution the notion of inclusion has been misinterpreted by many to mean that we need to have pan-Wales strategies and pan-Wales thinking. Whilst this is perhaps often meant with good intention, this means that public institutions (including the BBC) try hard to be seen to be speaking to and for everyone, but only when ‘everyone’ is narrowly translated as people from different parts of Wales. This approach thus risks missing the point that a complex web of inequalities impact upon north, south, mid and west Wales differently and affects certain parts of the population more acutely than others. These are far more important modes of exclusion than imagined regional boundaries that warrant our attention. This is relevant here because unfortunately a related consequence of this unifying project has been the turn away from a critical gaze of what is happening in, sometimes framed as to, Wales towards a romantic now inward facing project.

The role of mainstream media can be criticised for losing the critical edge documentaries and analysis of old. The earlier focus on injustice and inequality has been replaced by celebratory shows of ‘Welsh’ heritage: rural wales, coasts of Wales, castles of Wales and, of course, sport. In Wales (as elsewhere) we need to examine who is included in the narration of nation and who can make claims to be Welsh that are recognised in a meaningful way. There are plenty of artists, activists and academics who are attempting to do just that. However, we are long overdue a good quality reflection on Welsh history within the mainstream.

Dr Bethan Harries is a Sociologist at the University of Manchester. She is the author of the book, ‘Talking race in young adulthood’ (Routledge, 2017). Her current research examines the relationship between race and nation in Wales and Scotland.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

New Welsh government -- new opportunities for TV and film?

Simon Curtis from Equity has complained about lack of opportunities for Welsh actors to be involved in big dramas telling the Welsh story

We have discussed (many times, on this blog) the frequent use of Welsh locations, Welsh actors and Welsh production facilities for the making of films and TV series  for network or cinema distribution --and we have featured many grumbles from  the media and from the unions about the lack of any real commitment to the telling of genuine Welsh stories.   Money is dished out quite liberally to production companies, and undoubtedly brings economic returns, and it's true that some rather dark dramas do tell Welsh stories and do obtain UK-wide broadcasts.  "Hinterland", "Keeping Faith" and "Requiem" have done very well.  But when the powers that be are asked "Why is there no requirement on the big production companies to tell real Welsh stories?" the usual response is something like this:

A Welsh Government spokesman said productions it had backed such as Hinterland and Keeping Faith have "shown the breadth and quality of acting talent we have on our doorstep".

"Any financial support given to productions to come and film here is based on a commitment to spend large proportions of their budgets on the production supply chain and the wider Welsh economy," the spokesman added.

"This spend has to be evidenced before funding is released. Our funding helps to ensure that a number of roles within a production are filled from within Wales."

Bland and defensive.  It need not be like this.  I have written a number of times to Culture Ministers and civil servants asking that more pressure should be put on film and TV programme makers to prioritise Welsh stories and to encourage Welsh screenwriters to get involved in the creation of stories and the fashioning of scripts  -- but every time I have been met with zero enthusiasm.  As I have said before, one might be led to believe that enthusiasm has been banned in Wales........ so while Northern Ireland and Scotland develop quite strong brands via film and TV, Wales hides timidly in the undergrowth, seemingly convinced that nobody much wants to hear our own stories. 

Burt tomorrow Mark Drakeford takes over as First Minister, and he will be appointing a new set of Ministers for his first cabinet.  Opportunity time?  Let us hope so........ 

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Teaser video -- almost there......

Yesterday we did our final bits of recording (video, stills and audio) for our teaser video, with the kind help of Jake Hollyfield, who kindly allowed us to use his sound studio for a couple of hours.  As before, Ken Bird doing the recordings,  Anna Monro being Martha, and me enjoying the occasion and doing remarkably little work!  Anyway, huge thanks to all for their enthusiasm and generosity -- and to Inger for keeping us fed and watered back at HQ.

So now the music is done (thanks to our son Steve), the drone footage and all other photography is in the can, and the voice over is done too.  Now all that needs to be done is the stitching together of all the various components in Ken's studio in Aberystwyth.  A lot of hard work for something that will jut last for 90 seconds -- but that is the way with film and TV......  I'm sure we will have something in the end that we can all be proud of.

Watch this space!

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Back to the Welsh Narrative

Premise: As compared with Scotland and Ireland, Wales does not have a very strong “brand image”. Something needs to be done about it if we are to enhance the tourism economy, attract inward investment, reduce social inequality and spread the benefits of tourism into the “negected areas” where poverty levels are unacceptably high. Those of us who live in Wales are constantly frustrated by our own conservatism, timidity and reluctance to take risks or to promote our assets. For the benefit of our own internal dynamics and our place in the world, the profile of Wales needs to be much more heavily promoted.

We need to think and act strategically — first of all by defining who we are and what makes us WELSH. I have explored this issue before on my blog:

Let’s use the “pitch” technique:

Log Line:

A small nation with extravagant natural and historic resources resists the depradations of a powerful neighbour and learns to maintain self respect and to keep alive its unique language and culture through a combination of subversion, adaptability and good humour.


"Wales is a small country on the Celtic fringe of Europe with magnificent landscapes, a cultural heritage stretching across 6,000 years, and rich natural resources. It is the home of Celtic Christianity, but throughout its history it has mounted bloody and short-lived rebellions designed to resist the depredations of a powerful neighbour. Against all the odds it has retained its language, its culture and its pride whilst encouraging toleration and liberal values and adapting to dramatic change. In its history it has not suffered the same deep social traumas as Scotland and Ireland, but it has seen the best and the worst effects of mining and quarrying, heavy industry and the Industrial Revolution. It has learned how to be tolerant, subversive and seductive, and how to be spiritual and mischievous at the same time. Its people are romantics, prone to wild swings of emotion; both melancholia and euphoria feature in the national psyche. Welsh people have a powerful "sense of place" and an abiding fondness for family histories, legends, ceremonial and ancient traditions. Eccentricity is embraced, while great value is placed upon learning. There is a tendency towards radical protest and an ever-present desire for social reform. Today, Wales is a place where pride and humility coexist -- and the warmth of its welcome to visitors is legendary.” (See Note 1)

Tourism strategy (and the Welsh USP) should be based on the above, or on some version of it. It is not appropriate to say “Wales has a multitude of narratives, and they all need to be told" — because the central message is then drowned out by the noise. Nor is it satisfactory to say “Welsh speakers know what Wales is all about and know what “hiraeth”, “bro”, “croeso" and “gwerin” mean, and the rest of us should simply accept that and get on with life.” English-speaking Welsh people have an equal claim on “Welshness”, and their achievements, perceptions and aspirations have eqivalent value. It is more important than ever to stress that those of us who see Wales as our home have a shared story. So let’s see if we can define what that is, see if we can obtain a broad level of acceptance for it, and use it as the central strategy for selling Wales to the world.

Beneath this level promotional or marketing tactics should be devised which home in on specific aspects of the narrative — eg. landscapes, language, activities, food traditions, music, spirituality and pilgrimage, symbols of a violent past (castles and fortifications), sport, industry, writers and artists, eccentrics and celebrities. Visit Wales already does fantastic job on most of those, and on many more topics — and here the keywords can come in: authentic, creative, innovative, alive, epic, memorable, inspiring, fresh, legendary, iconic, rich, distinctive, accessible, contemporary, immersive, inclusive. 

Here are a few more adjectives that came up in a seminar when we all tried to define “the essence of Wales”: generous, warm-hearted, eccentric, mischievous, sensitive, intuitive, whimsical, enigmatic, musical, poetic, dramatic, spirited, steadfast, ironic, ebullient, demonstrative, enduring, colourful, lyrical, resolute, mysterious, proud, faithful, accessible, loyal, adaptable, enchanting, quirky, understated, unpretentious. Some of these slightly softer and more subtle words might also have a “marketing value” worth exploring……...


Note 1:
This version of the narrative is based very much on the writings of Jan Morris. The version given by Michael Sheen in his famously passionate November 2017 lecture — with Wales portrayed as a victim, viciously and cynically exploited and suppressed by a powerful and predatory neighbour — is in my view not sufficiently nuanced, and would be impossible to use as a key component of a tourism marketing strategy aimed principally at English holidaymakers!

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Outlaw King and the invention of nationalism

This is a really interesting article, homing in on the new Netflix drama called Outlaw King but exploring notions of "nationhood" far back in historical time.  Well worth reading.  All about cliches, assumptions, and convenient historical distortions and misrepresentations........

Epic Fails: ‘Outlaw King’ and Netflix’s Nationalism Problem
What the film industry gets wrong—and Monty Python gets right—about the nation.

By Kanishk Tharoor