Thursday, July 15, 2004

Wales... Under mined?

I've lived in Wales, UK, for 20 years now, and realise how insular it can get being a small principality 'off the coast' of England. There is trouble looming large for Wales and it seems unavoidable. Here's how I see it...

Lately, it seems that all the TV programming scheduled by the Welsh S4C channel is aimed at the Welsh, made by the Welsh, about the Welsh, and in the Welsh Language. They seem so caught up in the red tape of 'representing' Wales, that rarely do you see the outside world represented at all, unless it's in comparison with how much better it is in Wales. We seem to be forever praising our heritage, our language (one of the oldest in Europe), our countryside, our valleys, our sheep, Catherine Zeta Jones, Tom Jones, Charlotte Church (woof!!), and sadly anyone who knows the brother of a friend whose sister once kissed the father of this woman down the road who was married to some guy on the telly. Instead of encouraging new talent and new ideas, and trying to sell them to the world (exports - remember those), enabling us to create a modern and improved identity that would really put us on the map, we're rotting away with our inward-looking policies and self-righteous egos.

Let's look at an example... the 'supposed' film industry in Wales. It is extremely difficult to get any financial support in making a film in Wales which is geared for the mass-markets (i.e. to export), because in order to qualify for any funding, it has got to be about the Welsh, or in Welsh (or bi-lingual), or has to use Welsh people to make it, or have some/any Welsh connection, as though every film made in Wales has to be a cultural statement on Wales. I'm sorry but Wales doesn't have enough of a population to sustain a film night let alone a film industry.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for the survival of the Welsh language, its history and heritage, and Welsh jobs for Welsh people, but has anyone ever thought why the only Welsh people that make it are the ones that leave. It's called a film 'industry' for a reason - industry means business ideals and 'profit'. There just isn't enough demand for Wales outside of Wales, and it seems the purse strings are totally under the control of the Arts, Cultural and Heritage sectors and not the business community at all. We seem hell-bent on making sure that the only people that know anything about Wales, are the ones in Wales. Put the money in the hands of private investors, and venture capitalists and lets see what happens when we start using more of the Hollywood business model - when profit is demanded. There's a huge amount of talent in Wales, which is being subdued and repressed by this 'need' to represent Wales at every turn.

This 'example' can be applied across the board to many industries in Wales, and although I can't see a clear way through, I can see that Wales is undermining itself. The very least that should be done is to open up a dialogue so that these viewpoints can be discussed.

Who knows, maybe this blog will cause an uproar... but then... this is Wales.

4 comments:

Cowki said...

Wow, I feel a little bit cosmic after seeing the newspapers today. Front page news was the announcement the 3 of the main quangos in Wales are being scrapped. The WDA (Welsh Development Agency), ELWA (Education and Learning Wales) and Welsh Tourism, have all come under the hammer, and will be swallowed up by the Welsh Assembly (Local Government) by 2006. Maybe Wales is waking up to the looming nightmare I posted yesterday.
(Soundtrack of the twighlight zone filtering through)

Rhys Wynne said...

Like a typical Welshie I've visited your blog as it was under the Wales section on Britblog.

The word 'insular' is used often to describe Wales and unfaily I think. I hope you don't take offence at this but often it's by people who have have moved here (usually from England) and are a bit put out that we're not quite the same as them. I prefer the word 'different'.

The purpose of setting up S4C was to provide Welsh speakers with a channel with programmes in Welsh at prime time rather than the odd one at 1am on Granda/HTV. A lot of it tends to be about Wales & Welsh people naturally, but to say all programming is about Wales is not true. I don't watch S4C that often but I'm aware of a few programmes recently abour world religions, natural history, a (Welsh) author travelling along the equator etc. In fact I'd go as far as saying that S4C have more programmes about non-Welsh subjects compared to proportion of non-British/English programmes (I can't even think of one off top of my head) on the BBC (UK version) or ITV.

Sadly not everyone values culture and Heritage (although each to his/her I say) and I'd have to agree with you that tenious links to such 'icons' as the 2 Joneses and Miss Church are a bit tedious as well as remarks about sheep.
You may be refering to Sgript, the agency promoting Welsh film 'industry' and Wales as a filming location. I'm no expert on them nor have I ever applied for grants off them but they've only help fund 2 Welsh language films in the last decade as far a I can remember. S4C the TV channel has to commission it's own films! Non-welsh language films made in Wales tends to have mainly Welsh cast, but surely that's normal, films made in England have mainly English cast same Scottish people in Scottish films and French people in French films.... I very much doubt there is such a clause that insists it has to be about Wales or Welshness. The 2004 Cardiff Screen Festival is on this month, as far as I know the only Welsh film is about racism, a subject that's relevant anywhere in the world.

It's often said that we should move on, forget about are quirky little Welshness, and embrace internationalism/globalism (whatever they are), but then what do we become? Just dull American wanna-be's. I think the fact that I speak minority language and from a small nations makes me appreciate different cultures more so than if I came from a large dominant countyr/culture. I'm unsure if you are Japanese or someone who is really into the Japanese language and culture, I'd have thought you would feel the same. You say you enjoy original Asian/Japanese films to hash-up American re-makes, I to prefer European films (I go to Chapter very often). Tehh French films are usually about French way of life, Italians ones about Italy (and so forth) and think the are wonderfull.

Who knows, maybe this blog will cause an uproar... but then... this is Wales

Not uproar, but healthy discussion (I hope) ;-).. And sorry for the rant

Cowki said...

Thanks for the reasoned retort Rhys, and I'd just like to say that at the time I posted this initially, I was in a bad place. My colleagues and I had just applied for funding, (not full funding but just for script development - a measly £20,000) but got turned down by Sgrin (BTW - not heard of Sgript) on the basis that our script was deemed "too commercial". What's that all about then? It was a horror film based on a best-selling novel (which we'd bought the rights to). We've since gone to Australia for funding, and are awaiting a decision from an investment company over there.

As you rightly said about it being normal for Welsh films to star Welsh people, French films to star French people etc, that's all fine, but the French film industry works, likewise the Italian. Welsh just doesn't. I'm not getting at the language, but you can't really support an industry (people's jobs & livliehoods) based on 10% of the Welsh population that speaks the language. English films aren't successful because they're made in England... but because of the number of people that can understand the films, and 'want' to go see them, which... yeah you know where I'm going with it. In no way do I want us to become a 'wannabe America', I want us to be better than America, I want us to become an active vibrant economy, with an identity that can be understood by the world. Ahem... getting down off soap-box now ;-)Phew! I could hear fanfares and everything. ^±^

The 2001 census puts Welsh language as being spoken by roughly 10% of the population according to -
http://www.bwrdd-yr-iaith.org.uk/en/cynnwys.php?cID=6&pID=72&nID=180
I also notice that BBC Wales says that it is 20% -
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/2755217.stm

Now with only 2,938,000 people in Wales, according to -
http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=6
...that means 293,800 people who speak Welsh. And we're supposed to run a film industry and TV industry of the back of that little nest-egg. I know it will get better in time as more and more people learn Welsh (now its compulsory in schools - I think), but in the meantime the industries are dying on their feet. The exaggeration here is for effect ;-)

I do seem to get carried away with this topic. Having worked in the "industry" in Wales for 10+ years, I think it's due to the frustration (no not that kind) of seeing lots of ideas thwarted over the years for not being "Welsh" enough.

PS Yes I am English, but having lived here more than half my life I believe myself to be at least adopted by now ;-) I've worked on lots of Welsh language TV (behind the scenes in the production side of things). One of the dramas I worked on was 3rd in the ratings and only came in behind the News, and the Rugby, (6 nations I think). It only managed 100,000 viewers, yet it took over a year to produce. Surely there's something wrong here?? Where's the return on investment?

I'm not fluent in Welsh by any means, but have picked up bits and pieces along the way, like how to swear (typical), how to call the English names etc, but this isn't about whether the language should survive or be taught, just about the numbers of people who actually want to watch Welsh programming outside of Wales, which relates directly to the amount of money coming in to the industry, and therefore the quality and quantity of programming made. We can't make everything off the back of grants and match funding and hand outs. It needs to be self-sustaining, which means it has to attract bigger audiences.

I'd like to keep this dialogue open and ongoing, maybe we can sort out some ideas together. No offence is ever taken and good healthy discussion is the order of the day.

Rhys Wynne said...

Sorry for not reponding sooner (although i havn't much interesting to say - only being polite)
It was actually Sgrin that I meant 9Sgript is smoething to do with supporting theatr maybe or I just made that up. I'd be cheesed off at "too commercial" as well I suppose. You can probably count all the Horror films made/based in Wales on one hand (one that has had a few fingers bitten off by a zombie). Hope you have better luck in Australia with funding.

Statistics are usefull but sometimes misleading and always missused. Maybe as low a percentage as 10% (290,000) are flunet but over 600,000 claim knowledge of the Welsh language in Wales alone. There might well be the same amount again 'making it' outside Wales which are never taken into consideration when people are discussing whether it's worth doing anything in any Welsh based on numbers.

I'm not entirely happy with your argument about a film only being succesful if it's in English as more people speak it compared to Welsh. I go to see foreign films and can appreciate ones with subtitles as much as if it were in Welsh or English. it's the story and the acting and script that does it for me, not the language. I'm not saying that all films in Wales should be in Welsh, not even 50/50 of them (although if Wales really was a bilingual country then that's how it should be) as English is the first language of 80%+ of it's population.
You obviously have more experience than I about how films/drama's are produced etc, but I think you're painting a picture about the proportion of output in Welsh which is slightly exagerated.
Welsh spaekers are entitled to a drama as mush as everybody else. In English there has been Belonging and Nuts and Bolts (both set in the valleys) and that's it. The programmers think that English speakers in Wales don't need any more drama as the can watch all the other dramas on the UK network, but this is wrong. Ok it's nice(?) to watch a drama about 30 somethings in London now and again but what's wrog with dram's set in Wales in English? It appears that Welsh speakers are getting a better deal purely because all the Welsh language dramas have to be filmed with Welsh speaking actors. It's not the Welsh speakers have preferential treatment, it's the BBC and ITC centrally who's giving English speakers a bunm deal, and it looks like it will get worse with the proposed changes. I'm going to quit now and maybe try and fill some space on one of my own 3 blogs. One's in Welsh, one's bi and one's in English - all grant criteria met!

The 2001 census puts Welsh language as being spoken by roughly 10% of the population according to -
http://www.bwrdd-yr-iaith.org.uk/en/cynnwys.php?cID=6&pID=72&nID=180
I also notice that BBC Wales says that it is 20% -
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/2755217.stm

Now with only 2,938,000 people in Wales, according to -
http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=6
...that means 293,800 people who speak Welsh. And we're supposed to run a film industry and TV industry of the back of that little nest-egg. I know it will get better in time as more and more people learn Welsh (now its compulsory in schools - I think), but in the meantime the industries are dying on their feet. The exaggeration here is for effect ;-)

I do seem to get carried away with this topic. Having worked in the "industry" in Wales for 10+ years, I think it's due to the frustration (no not that kind) of seeing lots of ideas thwarted over the years for not being "Welsh" enough.

PS Yes I am English, but having lived here more than half my life I believe myself to be at least adopted by now ;-) I've worked on lots of Welsh language TV (behind the scenes in the production side of things). One of the dramas I worked on was 3rd in the ratings and only came in behind the News, and the Rugby, (6 nations I think). It only managed 100,000 viewers, yet it took over a year to produce. Surely there's something wrong here?? Where's the return on investment?

I'm not fluent in Welsh by any means, but have picked up bits and pieces along the way, like how to swear (typical), how to call the English names etc, but this isn't about whether the language should survive or be taught, just about the numbers of people who actually want to watch Welsh programming outside of Wales, which relates directly to the amount of money coming in to the industry, and therefore the quality and quantity of programming made. We can't make everything off the back of grants and match funding and hand outs. It needs to be self-sustaining, which means it has to attract bigger audiences.

I'd like to keep this dialogue open and ongoing, maybe we can sort out some ideas together. No offence is ever taken and good healthy discussion is the order of the day.