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Recreating the Past with The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales

1 August 2006

Television audiences over the past 18 months have had a feast of archival footage on their screens – from The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon to The Lost World of Freise-Greene. Using footage from The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, Welsh television production company Cwmni Da will be taking this phenomenon one step further by recreating lost scenes from the first Welsh language feature film – Y Chwarelwr (The Quarryman).

Filmed in 1935 by Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards (1895-1970), founder of the Welsh youth movement, Urdd Gobaith Cymru and written by dramatist John Ellis Williams (1901-75), Y Chwarelwr showed the everyday lives of a Welsh
slate-mining community – from work to chapel, from school to courtship. Armed with a Bell and Howell camera and £100 worth of film, Edwards and Williams headed to the mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog to capture the lives of the slate-miners and their families on film.

The film was shown to great acclaim in portable cinemas throughout North Wales in the 30’s and 40’s, but over the intervening years the last reel of Y Chwarelwr has been deemed lost. Two years ago the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales embarked upon a major preservation project to restore the surviving reels and sound disks to their former glory.

According to an article written in the Cambrian News in 1935,Sir Ifan stated that "The idea of producing a Welsh film occurred to me some time ago when I was in Portugal. There I saw and heard the first Portuguese picture in the vernacular. I thought if Portugal could do this, why not Wales?" It was this same ethos that led nearly 50 years later to the establishment of S4C, the Welsh language television channel, whose first chief executive was Sir Ifan’s son, Owen Edwards.

It is fitting, therefore, that S4C have commissioned Cwmni Da to create a series of programmes (to be screened on the channel in December) to celebrate the importance of Y Chwarelwr. This will also be the first opportunity for the Archive to showcase the newly restored film footage. During the course of a week, the audience will follow the trials and tribulations of director Ifor ap Glyn as he tries to locate the missing reel. Using the same technology and techniques of the original filming and with the surviving sound transcript in hand, Ifor ap Glyn will also try to recruit locals to star in his re-enactment of the lost reel.

According to Archive spokesperson Llinos Medi Jones, “Recreating the lost reel may be a little unorthodox to those in the film archive community, but it is an opportunity to celebrate the importance of Y Chwarelwr to Welsh culture. This was a first tentative step in bringing the Welsh language into the modern era. Nowadays Wales has a vibrant Welsh language film and television culture – all this can be traced back to Y Chwarelwr”

As well as the television series the cinematic première of the restored film Y Chwarelwr takes place at the Classic Reels Film Festival: Wales on the silver screen, Aberystwyth, 25-28 October 2007.

Notes: S4C is available outside Wales on Sky channel 135 with subtitles.

For further details of Y Chwarelwr and the Classic Reels Film Festival please contact the Archive on 01970 632 828

Llinos Medi Jones
Marketing and Events Officer
01970 632 534