Documentary in Wales

Cultures and Practices

by Dafydd Sills-Jones (Volume editor) Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection XIV, 314 Pages
Series: Documentary Film Cultures, Volume 1


Documentary, in a small, bilingual nation such as Wales, experiences many of the same challenges that it faces across the world. As the costs of professional documentary production lessen, and the potentialities of internet distribution loosen the grip of its traditional tele-cinematic gatekeepers, documentary production communities face both the potential of new distribution avenues and severe professional precarity.
In Wales, the dynamics of this transformation unfolds according to a specific historical, political and cultural situation. With funding, regulatory frameworks, audience taste, viewing figures, and contractual territories all mostly emanating or controlled from across the border in England, at times it is difficult to identify texts that can and can’t be claimed as «Welsh». But then again, contingency and struggle have always been fundamental aspects of Welsh cultural identity.
What emerges is not so much the documentary culture of a small nation, but a documentary culture that is still struggling to come to terms with itself, giving Welsh documentary a character defined by a specific set of features: the political and cultural interplay of two languages, a continuation of older British public service broadcasting traditions, the acceptance of the marginal, the close interconnectedness of key players and the often paralysing effect of underfunding.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Preface
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction: Documentary in Wales: Cultures and Practices (Dafydd Sills-Jones and Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones)
  • 1 Anorac: Locating ‘Feature Doc’ in the Documentary Ecology of Cymru–Wales (Dafydd Sills-Jones)
  • 2 Representing Sociolinguistic Reality in a Minoritized Language: S4C, Documentary and ‘Translanguaging’ (Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones)
  • 3 Making History: The Story of Wales – Representing the Nation (John Geraint)
  • 4 Arts for All?: S4C, Arts Documentaries and the Notion of Quality (Geraint Ellis)
  • 5 Embracing Complexity: Aberfan: The Fight for Justice (Iwan England)
  • 6 Rethinking Documentary: Wales and the British Documentary Tradition (Colin Thomas)
  • 7 Creative Documentary?: Csikszentmihalyi’s Systems Model and Documentary Production in Wales (Nia Dryhurst)
  • 8 Activism and Online Documentary: The Life and Death of Sianel62 (Greg Bevan)
  • 9 Capturing Youth Voices: Participatory ‘Social Network Documentary’ Production and Political Engagement in a Small Nation (Helen Davies and Merris Griffiths)
  • 10 Authorship, Representation and Ethics: Collaborative Filmmaking with Rural Communities in Wales (Anne Marie Carty)
  • 11 Interactive, Immersive and Digital Documentary Practice in Wales: A Work in Progress (Joanna Wright)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Compiling a book about the documentary film output of a nation is a perilous undertaking. By the nature of things there will be omissions, and those aspects included can therefore seem over emphasized. It is in the knowledge of these dangers that this volume was embarked upon. From the outset, it was conceived of not as a survey of Welsh documentary, but as a snapshot of the contemporary issues and preoccupations to be found within a specific body of practitioners and media scholars who were kind enough to answer our open call for contributions to this book. As editors, we would also like to acknowledge the support given to this project from the Sir David Hughes Parry Fund at our former institution, Aberystwyth University.

The result is an interweaving of perspectives and figures: for example, Colin Thomas is both author and interviewee in the book, which is entirely consistent with intertwined nature of the Welsh documentary milieu. Huw Edwards is the presenter of two significant case studies examined by two practitioners of two different generations. The former mining areas feature both as focus and as background in several of the chapters. Yet there is also a prominence in the collection given to what may be considered marginal documentary practices. What emerges from this book is not so much the documentary culture of a small nation, but a documentary culture that is still struggling to come to terms with itself, dominated by one of documentary’s foundational film cultures – that of twentieth-century Britain. The implications of this historical dominance – both in terms of documentary and in a wider cultural sense – gives Welsh documentary a character defined by a specific set of features; the political and cultural interplay of two languages; a continuation of older British public service broadcasting traditions almost lost to the UK networks; the acceptance of the marginal; the interconnectedness of key players and the often paralyzing effect of underfunding. These features do not constitute the basis on which Welsh documentary can be judged a success or failure – rather they show ←xi | xii→how documentary as a form, and as a communal activity, is conditioned by the cultural forces that both enable and obstruct it.

What becomes of Welsh documentary in the years to come depends very much on the responses to the present crisis in Wales’s own identity. Today, the twenty years of devolution face a stern challenge from a Westminster emboldened by the Brexit process that will indubitably wreak havoc in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors in Wales. Constitutional or national identity politics in other parts of the UK – both in Scotland and in Northern Ireland – could well make inevitable some stark choices for Wales’s future path. What kind of Wales will be there to speak of, and about, and who will speak for Wales?

The answers to these questions lie well beyond the remit of this volume, but in it there is evidence to suggest that documentary, often a site of cultural struggle between established and emerging forces, will both reflect and play a part in that future development.

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XIV, 314
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (March)
Documentary production Small Nation Cinemas UK media minority language media
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. XIV, 314 pp., 20 fig. col., 4 fig. b/w, 12 tables.

Biographical notes

Dafydd Sills-Jones (Volume editor) Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones (Volume editor)

Dafydd Sills-Jones is Associate Professor at Te Kura Whakapaho, Te Wananga Aronui o Tamaki Makau Rau (School of Communication Studies, Auckland University of Technology). Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones is Director of the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies and Professor of Linguistic Diversity and Creative Industries at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.


Title: Documentary in Wales
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