Welsh movies — yes, and there are a lot of them — come to Ottawa

By Jay Stone


OTTAWA — The most famous Welsh film ever made is probably How Green Was My Valley, the sentimental 1941 portrait of a growing up in coal mining town that was directed by American-born John Ford and starred Walter Pidgeon, the pride of St. John, New Brunswick, and Maureen O’Hara from Dublin. Everyone in the movie spoke English with an Irish accent. It was, however, filmed in Wales.


How Green Was My Valley — which won the Best Picture Oscar that year, beating Citizen Kane — was just one of many movies throughout the years that have been set, or sometimes just filmed, in Wales. Even more have featured Welsh-born actors: the country has contributed a mighty roster of stars to the world cinema, including Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ray Milland and a current Oscar nominee, Christian Bale.


But there’s another Welsh movie industry as well, that tells stories of the country, often in the Welsh language. Those films will be featured this March — the month of St. David, patron saint of Wales — in a Welsh film festival that organizers say might be the first of its kind in Canada. It will be held on Tuesday nights at the ByTowne Cinema in Ottawa.


The four films in the festival  reflect the language, culture and history of Wales, the Ottawa Welsh Society says.


They also reflect some of the challenges of the industry in a smaller country — challenges familiar in Canada — that is next door to a dominant neighbour. For instance, the opening night film, Hedd Wyn (1992), about the life of a real-life poet and pacifist who was conscripted to fight in the First World War, was the first movie from Wales to be nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar. However, it was classified as a movie from the United Kingdom, rather than Wales. (It was the first time a movie from the United Kingdom was nominated in the foreign film category. The second was the 1999 drama Solomon a Gaenor, which is told in Welsh and Yiddish.)


Hedd Wyn will be shown on Tuesday March 5 at 6:45 a.m.


On March 12, the film is Y Streic a Fi (The Strike And Me), a drama about the effects on one family of the 1984-85 coal miners’ strike.


The March 19 movie is Y Syrcan (The Circus), a coming of age tale about a circus that comes to town and changes the life of a young girl.


The final film, on March 26, is a new production — starring Rhys Ifans — of the Dylan Thomas radio play Under Milk Wood (previously filmed in 1972 with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole). It is the only film in the festival in English. The others are in Welsh with English subtitles.


Tickets are $12 each ($8 for ByTowne members).


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