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Footage at Welsh Archive Reveals Link with Audrey Hepburn and Mining Disaster

1 March 2006

A BIZARRE connection between the Oscars, Wales' worst ever mining disaster and a 1964 Audrey Hepburn comedy-thriller emerged in a donation to the national film archive.

The unlikely link came to light when renowned film editor Jim Clark gifted his documentary Senghenydd: Portrait of A Mining Town to the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales.

Clark, who won an Oscar for his work on The Killing Fields, shot his South Wales film on spare blank bits of film reels he found while editing the 1964 Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn movie Charade.

But a world away from the Hollywood glitz, the donation of Clark's poignant documentary has revealed rare documentary footage of the 1913 mining catastrophe.

The find was hailed by archivists last night.

Llinos Medi Jones, spokeswoman for the Aberystwyth-based National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, said, "The archive is extremely pleased to receive the film footage and sound recordings documenting one of the darkest chapters of 20th century Welsh history.

"The archive exists to protect and preserve the visual heritage of Wales, the newsreel footage in Clark's documentary captures the enormity of a disaster and its after-effects on the community."

Within the documentary, brief surviving newsreel footage records the aftermath of the catastrophe at Senghenydd, near Caerphilly, which claimed the lives of 439 men 93 years ago.

Previously, the few surviving seconds of footage of the disaster aftermath were not known to exist outside private archives.

Mr Clark discovered the images quite by chance in the Wardour Street area of London, which has long been a magnet for film enthusiasts.

He bought footage from a trader or collector and discovered it contained images of people milling around the Senghenydd pithead in the wake of the disaster, with a pall of smoke over the mine testifying to the ferocity of the explosion that took so many lives.

Mr Clark said, "Before I filmed I had scarcely heard of Senghenydd and when I went there I didn't want to make a film about the disaster, but rather about the community."

Over the intervening four decades, Mr Clark has become one of the world's leading film editors, landing an Oscar in 1984 for The Killing Fields and with other film credits including the Bond feature The World Is Not Enough and the 2004 Venice Film Festival Best Film prizewinner, Mike Leigh's Vera Drake.

But long before recognition from the Academy Awards, Mr Clark won prizes in Britain and France for his moving depiction of life in the South Wales coalfields.

His documentary, narrated by noted Welsh broadcaster Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, was made following a suggestion from one of the Lincolnshire-born film editor's Welsh friends.

Clark had not seen the film for nearly 40 years prior to a screening at the Ffresh Student Moving Image Festival of Wales, held in Aberystwyth last month.

"I'm pleased the film is going back to Wales", said Mr Clark.

And not only will the film be returning to Wales but it will also return to Senghenydd itself. A copy of the documentary has been loaned to the Senghenydd Community Centre.


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