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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 March, 2003, 11:00 GMT
Wales' big screen hopes
By Jon Gower
BBC Wales arts correspondent

Coal might once have been one of Wales' greatest exports, followed by teachers who brain-drained across the border into England.

Nowadays, the country has a thriving export trade in actors.

Catherine Zeta Jones wins the Oscar
Welsh actors remain in the spotlight
Hornblower star Ioan Gruffudd is currently filming the pilot of a new series called Century City in Los Angeles for CBS.

Rhys Ifans keeps up a solid portfolio of film work, building on his scene-stealing cameo in Notting Hill and Anthony Hopkins, now an American citizen with a home in Malibu, still has his pick of the scripts.

Meanwhile the Oscar win for Catherine Zeta-Jones' high-octane, high-stepping role in Chicago extends a growing list of films from Wales which have been shortlisted for a gold statuette, from the Welsh language war movie Hedd Wyn to Joanna Quinn's animated version of the Canterbury Tales.

Similarly, Welsh directors such as Marc Evans, whose My Little Eye was both a commercial and a critical success, and Sara Sugarman, recently returned from Los Angeles, are making names for themselves.

Devolution

But to create an industry you need infrastructure, or in the case of a country like Ireland, attractive inducements such as tax breaks for film-makers.

In Wales, a country going through a process of devolution, the civic structures are being created in the wake of the political ones but no tax-breaks yet - not until the country gets tax-raising powers - which is many moons away.

Marc Evans
Marc Evans directed My Little Eye
Film bodies are now being created. Sgrin, the media promotion agency, has energy, authority and money.

A Film Academy for Wales is about to be opened, with the man who helped create an International Film School in Newport, Clive Myers, aiming to marry academic interest in film with practical involvement in making it.

Many hopes in Wales depend on the creation of new studios already dubbed Valleywood.

The 350m scheme, to create the Dragon International studios at Llanilid near Bridgend has ambitions to rival Pinewood studios.

With Lord Attenborough at the helm as chairman the plan to convert a former open-cast coal site could revolutionise the industry in Wales.

Starring role

In these days of global film-making, where a film such as Tomb Raider II was to have been made in China before being switched to Wales, a film industry can be created by attracting films as much as making them.

The countryside of Wales has had a starring role in a raft of movies of late.

The latest Bond movie Die Another Day had a sequence shot on Penbryn beach near Cardigan and the producer later returned to scout around the Millennium stadium and the Cardiff Bay barrage.

Last summer Angelina Jolie was to be found in Snowdonia, making the sequel to the blockbuster Tomb Raider.

A hundred local people found gainful if unglamorous employment on the set.

Sixty businesses had a boost, from caterers to local mini-buses, who found their entire fleets employed ferrying around extras and actors.

Quiet midwinter

The Welsh countryside is increasingly being used as a movie backdrop.

Snowdonia
Tomb Raider was filmed in Snowdonia
Recently the 2m BBC production of Carrie's War filled Carmarthenshire hotels with actors and extras in a quiet midwinter season.

At the tail end of 2002 the new Wales Film Commission came into being, promoting both locations and a local skills base.

And later in the spring a new Film, Television and New Media Fund for Wales, with money from the National Assembly, among others, will be launched, with cash to bankroll films and work on the means to get them distributed.

Whether or not all this adds up to a full-blown industry or not is open to question, but there is the very definite sense that solid foundations are being laid down for the future.

Welsh film-makers point to Denmark's success in creating a generation of film-makers who make movies their own way, rather than in imitation of the big studios in Los Angeles, or the might of Miramax.

It won't happen overnight but Wales certainly has the creative capital to tell its own stories on the big screen.




SEE ALSO:
Zeta Jones' night with Oscar
24 Mar 03 |  Entertainment


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