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B’casters Bankrolling Film Biz

Hopes for the establishment of an indigenous Welsh feature film industry are riding on Ffilm Cymru (Welsh Film Foundation) and a half-dozen films.

Film Cymru is a £ 6 million ($11.5 million) venture set up in 1989 and backed by S4C, the Welsh-language fourth tv channel, and Cardiff-based BBC Wales.

Ffilm Cymru’s support by the odd-couple partnership of pubcaster BBC Wales and commercial web S4C reflects one of the peculiarities of the Welsh media industry, where traditional lines of rivalry between public and commercial broadcasters are sometimes blurred.

It also underlines the crucial role played by S4C in the renaissance of the Welsh media scene. Since its establishment in 1982, S4C has partially funded a spate of tv movies, some of which have earned international recognition. Of particular note are “Coming Up Roses,” a 1986 entry at the Cannes Film Festival produced by Red Rooster, and Carl Francis’ “Boy Soldier” and “Giro City” (the latter with Glenda Jackson).

“Everything changed with the establishment of S4C. It’s been a real shot in the arm for Welsh filmmakers,” notes John Hefin, former head of drama at BBC Wales who’s moved over to Ffilm Cymru as artistic director.

S4C and BBC Wales have agreed to pony up half of the £ 6 million total over a four-year period; BBC’s share will take the form of facilities while S4C’s contribution will be in cash. It’s expected the rest will be raised via co-production coin.

Hefin says the plan is to produce six films, two of which will be Welsh-language efforts targeting native audiences. The remaining four will have wider international themes (but usually a Welsh angle) and will be shot in English.

“O.M.,” Ffilm Cymru’s first release, received limited theatrical playoff in Wales late last year before airing on S4C Christmas Day. Budgeted at £ 750,000 ($1.42 million) and fully funded by S4C and BBC, the pic is based on the life of Welsh educator and politician O.M. Edwards.

Ffilm Cymru’s second Welsh-lingo venture, “One Full Moon,” wrapped lensing last month and should be ready for release this summer. Shot on a budget similar to that of “O.M.,” it’s about a man released from a lunatic asylum who returns to his village in mountain region of Snowdonia.

The game plan has been for Ffilm Cymru to test the waters with limited-appeal Welsh-language ventures before expanding into higher-profile international co-prods. “It’s been a very steep learning curve,” admits Hefin about the transition from tv movies to theatrical films.

Also slated for production are:

* “Safe House,” contempo drama about international terrorism, based in Wales and North Africa. Ffilm Cymru is looking for a French co-producer. First draft is due at the end of February, say Ffilm Cymru execs.

* “In The Mood,” from an original idea by a Welsh writer, about two former GIs, successful businessmen in Manhattan, who return to Wales for a reunion. American script consultant and lecturer Robert McKee is advising. “It’s full of nostalgia and Glenn Miller-style music,” says Hefin.

* “The Black Assassin,” based on the novel “Y Pla” (“The Plague”) by Welsh writer W.O. Roberts. This ambitious venture is skedded to lens in Wales, Italy, France and North Africa and will carry a $5 million to $7 million production tag. Wales will take a minority interest in the movie. Set in medieval Europe against the background of the Black Death, it’s touted as an adventure about one man’s mission to kill the King of France. An English-language version of the book is due to be published this spring; Ffilm Cymru has purchased film rights to the book.

* “Barricades,” a $1.5 million to $2 million venture set on a Welsh island, about an attempt to break down the barriers between groups of Protestant and Catholic youths from Northern Ireland.

Sales and distribution of Ffilm Cymru pics will be handled on a project-by-project basis, says Hefin.

“While it’s wonderful to have a commitment for six films over the next few years, this doesn’t exactly denote a booming film industry,” admits Richard J. Staniforth, director of business affairs at Ffilm Cymru.

The exec says one of his fears is that after his outfit has completed its six films, “that will be the end of the Welsh film industry.” In a bid to secure its longterm position, Ffilm Cymru is setting up a separate venture, Persona Films, a film development house to be based in Cardiff.

“We are more interested than ever before in making Wales a center for film and tv to rival London, Paris and Brussels,” says Staniforth. Persona, which aims to develop purely commercial, big-screen ventures, is due to be launched at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

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