‘Come to Ynysybwl’ said Tony Burnell, ‘it’s twenty five years since they closed Lady Windsor Colliery and we’re having a festival. You can do something with the kids.’ Over forty years ago Tony had organised a bus to take a gang of teenage hippies to see the Pink Floyd at the Afan Lido in Aberavon. It never turned up. I never forgave him. Now he was tempting me with a commission and a temporary work permit in ‘The Bwl’. Time for peace and reconciliation.
Ynysybwl is another valley village without a vowel and one where the tarmac doesn’t quite run out but fractures, ruptures, then winds to a pub and a church with a breathtaking view. It was the end of term and time was running out to do anything with the kids at Trerobart Primary School and they were already mentally running down the road to the big school in Ponty. But they were a bright and lively bunch in a vibrant school in a real community clinging on to a sense of itself. The pit had been grassed over and reduced to single dram as a memorial and there was hardly a single job left in the village. But still embedded in the fabric were the remains of a thousand strong work force waiting to tell their story. Round them up, bring them together with the school kids and make a film. Simple.
Like An Egg, a young film company based in Pontypridd, are so rooted in the community that in the recent Manic Street Preachers music video that they shot, they used a workingmens’ club in Porth and persuaded two hundred friends and family to squeeze into a hot, sweaty room for twelve hours just for the fun of it. They joined me in Ynysybwl. An act of blind faith. I pointed Rob and his camera at schoolkids, mountains, ex miners and deserted streets and told him I knew what I was doing. He smiled, sweated, and shot. We very quickly learnt two things. Never film kids in a heatwave and never point a camera at an overworked teacher.
After three weeks cutting, without scissors or tape, (film-making has changed) we emerge with a film fit for purpose and, we hope, entertainment. We are to show it at the Con Club as part of the festivities, shoehorned into an evening of music and storytelling. I have never been so nervous. I have never made a film but even more frightening I’m an outsider telling a story about The Bwl to the people of the Bwl. In the film making I have been surrounded by experts but as regards the story, I’m walking the plank alone.
In a packed hall they watch the film in silence. Everyone. Even the bar staff have left their positions for a better view of a Ponty boy falling into a sea of sharks. The film ends and the silence is broken by what sounds like a stifled sob. Then applause. The lights come up to reveal several women and a lot more men wiping away tears. We’ve managed to pull it off.
Ynysybwl is a special place. There’s lots of them in Wales. They’ve been messed about for decades. Well, you don’t mess with people from the Bwl. We hope we didn’t.
Watch the final film here: The Bells Ring Alone