A Welsh Transformation

by Dave Berry

Joanna Quinn's Body Beautiful. © Joanna Quinn.
The crucial, and at times spectacular, worldwide contribution of animators in Wales since the 1982 launch of the S4C Welsh language television channel, is reflected in the pivotal position of animation films in the country's Wales Film and Television Archive (WFTVA) collection. Before the '80s, animation from Wales was virtually non-existent. Only a handful of significant student and college films survived. Since then S4C has funded much animation (often as a partner in international co-productions) -- and the Welsh archive in Aberystwyth has helped ensure, through its holdings, preservation efforts, and screenings, that current audiences and future generations can regularly see work by a string of 'independent' filmmakers who have carved out impressive reputations at international festivals.

A String of Successes
SuperTed, a children's series made by Cardiff's Siriol company, screened in the new channel's first year, won a British Academy of Film and Television Award and was later sold to the Disney Channel. However, the most significant breakthrough came in 1987 when Joanna Quinn's robust feminist comedy Girls' Night Out won three key awards at the Annecy Festival. A shoal of talented individuals has since emerged, including Aaargh! Animation (Michael Mort and Deiniol Morris) with their anarchic Gogs comedy series set in prehistoric days, north Wales abstract artist Clive Walley and the sand-on-glass specialist Gerald Conn. Wales also provided a home base for much of the '80s and '90s to Vera Neubauer, Candy Guard and Phil Mulloy, three very distinctive animators who have since gravitated to London but left an impressive legacy of work from their time in Wales. Prague-born Neubauer's stunningly reflective pixilation movie Wheel of Life was inspired by the Sea Empress oil spillage disaster in west Wales. She used detritus and bric-a-brac on the seashore to create striking imagery and an ingenious work which slotted easily into an oeuvre which amounts to a powerful feminist critique.

Welsh artist Gerald Conn at work with a still from one of his sand-on-glass films.
Courtesy of and © Gerald Conn.

The Archive's Activities
The Wales archive, founded officially in 1992, is committed to showcasing its preserved holdings in individual projections around the country by archive staff, and screening material from its collection within the 'mainstream' cinema programs of arts centres and other venues around Wales. The WFTVA offers a regular supply of prize-winning shorts to accompany main features -- notably at Wales' leading film arthouse venue, Chapter Arts Centre in the capital, Cardiff.

The archive also ran a wide ranging public debate at Chapter in November 1998 on the state of animation, in a year which saw a Hollywood Oscar nomination for Joanna Quinn's Famous Fred, and the first full retrospective of Welsh animation shorts at Hiroshima. Issues preoccupying animators included the lack of funding for work, the overdominance in the Welsh animation sphere of S4C and the fragility of the infrastructure, but also the optimism engendered by the decision to create a Welsh Assembly, which could become a powerful lobbying body within Europe for the nation's filmmakers.

The "rock star" cat at large, Famous Fred.
© TVC Cartoons.

The Cardiff November debate was chaired by Jayne Pilling, former director of the now troubled International Animation Festival which was staged four times in the city since 1990, a testimony to S4C's growing reputation and influence. The event also celebrated -- for the first time in Wales -- the pioneering work of ex-cinema projectionist Sid Giffiths. He helped create (initially from his Cardiff home) Jerry the Tyke - a cartoon canine shown regularly in Pathe Pictorial's screen news-magazines in 1920's British cinemas. Since November, animators, broadcasters and the board of the annual Welsh International Film Festival have discussed tentative plans to revive an international animation festival in Cardiff, perhaps by spring 2000.

Building Relationships and the Collection
Leading production companies in Wales have forged strong links with the archive, notably Cartwn Cymru, responsible for a forthcoming animation feature on Jesus Christ, and, particularly, Siriol who made the first all-Wales animation feature, a version of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, in 1992. The same year the company helped create the first Welsh joint feature production, The Princess and the Goblin, made with Hungary.

The WFTVA also links up with film schools, encouraging animation departments and students to deposit work. Staff members are now discussing with University College of Wales, Newport (UCWN), the need for co-operation and funding to ensure that work showcased each year by the college is automatically and systematically preserved. These links are vital, with UCWN planning to expand to become the Welsh International Film School in 1999.

The archive will also benefit from agreements struck by its umbrella organization, Welsh media agency Sgrin, to ensure that provisions for an archive film copy is built into contracts with all filmmakers making short movies for the new Sgrin-S4C project, 'Animate It!'

The Emmy Award-winning Shakespeare story, A Winter's Tale, and Carmen, a part of the Operavox series. © S4C

The archive has acquired copies of many of S4C's 'classic' strand of animation series -- such as its Shakespeare and opera (Operavox) half-hour films -- made, partly in conjunction with Russia's Christmas Films, by companies such as Cardiff's Cartwn Cymru. A 35mm print of Joanna Quinn's Body Beautiful is held at Aberystwyth and other 35mm holdings include a number of the S4C Shakespeare half-hours, the feature The Princess and the Goblin and episodes of Cartwn Cymru's Funny Bones series. The 16mm prints held include a film collection from the Welsh Arts Council. Other works are available on VHS and Betacam.

The WFTVA published details of its animation and live-action holdings in its first catalogue in 1997. While no official catalogue or policy exists on the collection of documentation/associated material on animation films, the staff encourages the deposit of such material. The current, small collection of cels, drawings and artworks should expand rapidly as filmmakers and television channels increasingly value their work and the country continues to enjoy a stimulating animation production mini-boom.

The Wales Film and Television Archive is located at:
Unit One, Science Park, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales, U.K. SY23 3AH
Archive Administrator: Jane Davies.

Dave Berry is research officer for the Wales Film and Television Archive and for the Welsh media agency Sgrin. He was the film critic for the Cardiff evening paper, South Wales Echo, from 1978 to 1994. In addition, he wrote Wales and Cinema: The First 100 Years (1994), and co-edited the recently published David Lloyd George: The Movie Mystery, based on the Welsh Archive's re-discovery of a missing 80-year-old silent movie.

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