Supported By @CreativeCardiff
For Plastik, pop-up cinema event Roathbud was a particular gem in the Made in Roath calendar; on the final night of the festival, a collection of funny, sad, heartwarming and inventive short films summed up perfectly what Roath has to offer; whether they were shot there, made by film makers from the area, inspired by Roath or came with a far more tenuous Roathian connection.
Roathbud opened with Funday, a black comedy set on the streets of Roath. Recently shown at Raindance Film Festival, Funday takes all of the deprecating humour of Cardiff and turns it to the most unfairly ridiculed of figures. Tentboy by Ryan Owen was a particular highlight, and truly cinematic; a sweet coming of age tale, it evoked images of the recent Swansea set Submarine with its awkward teenage protagonist and concerned, repressed parents.
Music videos, including a hyperactive, spy-cliche laden outing for Cardiff band Kutosis by curator Tom Betts, and Fujiya & Miyagi’s Yo Yo by Ewan Jones-Morris, pepper the night and provide energetic interludes to more weighty pieces. Fixer was one of these; set on a nondescript council high-rise, a man who was once useful grieves for a whole life lost; it takes true talent to condense a story so laden with sorrow into such a small time.
Chris Marshall’s documentary Spotter looks at the strange lives of plane spotters, but in turn switches its attention to the strange lives of documentary makers. Bleach bright blue skies and the roar of engines all add to piece which makes you consider your own strange obsessions.
Each of these excellent films was projected shown onto a wall in a make-shift room, cobbled together with a borrowed projector and a borrowed venue. Like a lot of the things shown during Made in Roath, the end result was greater than the sum of its humble parts. It’s events like Roathbud which truly rekindle an audience’s love for cinema.
I meet Tom Betts, film maker and organiser of Roathbud, in The Gate on the opening morning of this year’s festival. The wall opposite The Gate is festooned with hundreds of photographs taken by Cardiff residents, and in a car park beyond Roath Market is bustling with live music and fresh Welsh produce. While every weekend seems to hold a gem somewhere in the city, this particular weekend all eyes are turned to Roath; for a short while this leafy suburb feels like the centre of Cardiff’s small, but perfectly formed, universe.
Tom is a familiar face for many; he hosts and curates the monthly Chapter MovieMaker night, and has just secured certification for his first feature film Secrecy, largely shot in Cardiff, to be shown at the centre.
How did you get involved with Made in Roath and Roathbud?
I wasn’t involved originally and in fact I didn’t live in Roath at the time, but a friend of mine called Ryan Owen, who is also a film maker, was involved and originally putting it together so he did a lot of the work, talking to film makers and getting the films in, when realised he had double booked himself and was attending the London Film Festival. He knew me because I host Chapter MovieMaker and I’ve been doing that forever so i had experience with both organising and hosting to some degree, so we did it together, came up for a silly name for it [taken from the Orson Welles classic, Citzen Kane] and then on the night I hosted it and it was a really good experience.
What kind of films are shown at Roathbud?
The interesting thing about the Chapter screenings is that in any, even in smallish, cities there’s usually a film night for local film makers, but we never have to go outside of Cardiff or the South Wales area to get films, because there’s a lot being made locally; it’s incredible how many are being made. There are people in Glamorgan University and Newport University, but then there’s people just making them off their own backs, just shooting around the city, so the lucky thing is there’s a lot of local material.
But it’s challenging finding things especially about or shot in Roath, and it’s both the question of are there enough generally, and can I find them? You’ve got to put the word out and track them down, and also they’ve got to sort of work… we wanted to have a really flexible and varied programme so there’s room for documentaries, music videos, dramas and little goofy comedies and spoofs and a couple of more experimental and more narrative things but by the same token you want it to be consistent, even though it’s varied.
Films have lots of dimensions to them, so the film maker might live in Roath but the film itself might have been shot in Pontcanna, or they may have have done the editing in Roath or they may have shot indoors in Roath. A few of the films we’ll be showing were made in Roath but because they were shot indoors you would never know. They weren’t out in the park, or by the lighthouse. I’m showing a music video which I shot some of in Roath but some of it in the Bay.
The local aspect is both in content and the event itself; it’s about Roath having a cinema.. so whatever your showing it’s still about the act of setting the screen up, getting a projector and gathering people in this make-shift space and that’s a local thing regardless.
What was great about last year was getting to show things to a fresh crowd; people who are just local and who are intrigued. I think the festival is good at that, and getting the community together.
Why do you think Roath, and Cardiff in general, is becoming such a creative and film-making hub?
I’ve never really made films in another city but it seems to be a good sized city for getting around. It has the infra-structure of being a capital and there are the universities, teaching people how to make films, the regional film agency is based here, the training agency is here. The Welsh Screen Commission is based here, you’ve got Chapter which is a centre of exhibition of films locally and internationally. You’ve got all the ingredients for it to work out well from a film point of view.
I think if you start having a Made in Roath festival then [the area] becomes branded as an area of Cardiff that is creative, and there are a lot of venues like The Gate but then there’s small places as well. If you’re an artist then there’s the small cafes and tea houses and then there are places where you can show your art. It’s hard to know because I haven’t lived in all the different areas of Cardiff so I’m sure people in Adamstown or Splott are saying that where they live is where it’s all going on, but it does seem like there’s a lot happening.
It seems like there’s a lot of filmmaking going on in Cardiff at the moment. Is that fair to say?
It does seem that there is a lot of film being produced here – it’s hard to know if I’m just finding them, or if there is genuinely more. It’s that thing that cameras are more affordable, it’s easier to edit stuff. When I started that was just at the beginning of being more affordable to make your own films and now it’s massively cheaper than it used to be, you can get your hands on really amazing cameras so you can produce these very kind of polished pieces. Some of it is variable in quality, but I started making some really weak films and I’ve seen people really get noticeably better per film; technically they’re better, they figure out issues with sound and image, so I think it’s better to have opportunities to show slightly scrappier, earlier work to get better.
There are handful of people in Cardiff who make music videos to a really high level, so we show a reasonable amount of them at Chapter. But music videos are commissioned and have to be finished by a certain time, so that becomes quite a regular thing. There’s a reasonable amount of comedies being made as well, but we don’t get so many straight dramas. You get horror movies or more experimental things but you don’t get things that are plot-driven drama stories. And there’s a healthy amount of documentary film making and video art and more narrative-driven things as well. It’s intimidating and annoying how much and how good it all is. When I see something good I’m elated because I’m probably show it, but then also slightly depressed because of how good it is.
Why do you think it is that people seem to be making more comedy and horror?
It may be that loads of people are making straight dramas; when you move into features that is much more common. It’s a really gratifying thing when people do make comedies and when you show them to a crowd; they do play so well and there’s nothing really better than having a packed room of people laughing.
One of the films we showed last year a Roathbud was called Love Me, Love My Dog and it’s about a guy who is in a low point in his life, and his dog seems to start talking and tells him to cut his finger off. It was really brilliant watching it and watching the audience react to it. That’s why you make films; it’s brilliant to do them in isolation but it’s great to see people exactly follow the emotional beats and get the laughs that you wanted; that’s a really powerful thing. It’s also just what stories work with limited resources and limited time; like some people are making films at evenings and weekends then you’re gonna be going for things between 1 to ten minutes so it can be easier to do something more like a sketch and funny, rather than setting up a tight narrative.
Do you find it strange being a film maker but then also stepping away and interviewing film makers?
I find it really interesting; the Q&As I’ve done at Chapter in the last few years have been part of a series of films called New British Cinema Quarterly, which picks up independent British features, champions them and shows them at cinemas like Chapter. The people involved are all people who are just a bit further on than me, so they’ve made their first feature but sometimes they’ve had to really difficult circumstancing in making it, so it’s brilliant because you have a point of reference. I’m able to take inspiration from the techniques they used, who they spoke to, what they had to deal with, and it’s great to be engaged and hear about stuff. A lot of my stuff tends to be motivated by guilt and shame – the embarrassment of not having done it would be so terrible that I have to now do it.
How instrumental do you think somewhere like Chapter is to the film scene in Cardiff?
Being a Chapter employee I’m going to say it’s crucial – but it really is. Bafta Cymru is based in Chapter, they do events in Cineworld as well but a lot of local premiers are there and it’s just a central place where people are always hanging out; you bump into a lot of people there. It’s instrumental and key in setting the pace; they’re involved in everything.