FILMMAKERS from around the globe will descend on Blackwood next month to take part in a local documentary film festival for the second year.
The Welsh International Documentary Festival (WIDF) — taking place between Wednesday April 5 and Friday April 7 — will transform the town with film premieres, workshops and networking events.
The three-day festival is based in two venues — the Blackwood Miners’ Institute and Maxime Cinema — with documentary-makers attending from as far as Scandinavia, Belgium and the Balkans.
This year’s new feature— a Sony-sponsored outdoor screen by the Dragon’s Circle — will also aim to draw the general public into the festivities.
When the festival launched in 2016, founders chose Blackwood for its rich cultural history, describing it as a hub for radical ideas and culture in the valleys.
Moving forward, festival organisers hope to add to this cultural tradition by “building bridges with the community and wider creative world” and “promoting understanding and co-operation”.
The festival has attracted sponsors ranging from Caerphilly County Borough Council, Creative Europe Desk UK, Ffilm Cymru Wales and Royal Television Society alongside support from influential figures.
Some of its trustees include Islwyn’s MP, Chris Evans, head of media at University of South Wales, Dr Garrabost Jayalakshmi and senior film lecturer at University of South Wales, Sally Lisk-Lewis.
Ten feature films will premiere at the festival this year alongside several shorts, student films and microdocs with subject matter ranging from the quirky to the political.
From the light-hearted family portraits of Serbian flick Why Dragan Gathered His Band to Polish film, Two Worlds, exploring the experiences of deaf mute girl, the line-up is filled with surprises.
Israeli feature documentary An Eye For An Eye — by Ilan Ziv — is set to screen in the U.S later this year and aims to provide a message of forgiveness and healing in a country divided by race.
The film tells the story of a death row inmate Mark Stroman and the friendship he forges with one of his surviving victims who sets about saving him from death row as part of his Muslim faith.
Alongside its international flavour, the festival also gives Welsh films a prominent showing, including the King and Dai — a film about Europe’s largest Elvis Tribute Festival in Porthcawl.
The film, directed by south Wales-based David Barnes, explores the seaside town’s annual transformation as Elvis impersonators from across the World unite to celebrate ‘The King’.
Other films to look out for include Swim Team — a story about an all-autistic swimming team in New Jersey — and Atlantic, which explores three working-class fishing communities in three countries.
The festival will also welcome a star-studded judging panel for the coveted WIDF awards including Welsh producer, actor and writer, Jonny Owen and Oscar nominated producer, Kimberley Warner.
Founder of the Fine Cut series — which later became BBC’s Storyville — and serial Werner Herzog collaborator, Andre Singer, will also attend the festival as a judge.
Deputy manageress for the Maxime Cinema, Rhiannon Lemin, said: “Everyone always gets really excited and there’s always comments on how much the cinema has brought into the borough.
“Last year we even had two ladies from China visit and we had to pick them up from the train station. It’s just a fantastic opportunity to see some films that you wouldn’t generally see.”
While industry panels and a creative industries fair will allow aspiring filmmakers to network, gain advice and get a ‘foot in the door’, WIDF’s biggest impact has been its outreach work in Caerphilly.
Last year, the festival launched a digital learning centre at Blackwood Miners’ Institute — a permanent fixture at the venue promoting increased access and participation in the arts.
The project, supported by the Caerphilly Regeneration Trust, Film Cymru BFI Connector Fund, Caerphilly council and Shoot From The Hip Film Productions, hosts regular workshops for youngsters.
The aim is to contribute to the economic, cultural and social regeneration of the region through training opportunities and a year-round programme of activities focused on digital skill-building.
This includes editing, script writing, production, basic web skills and social media, with the centre boasting state-of-the-art equipment and expert advisors working to “upskill” staff.
At this year’s festival, several Welsh students will also take part in workshops at the festival including Blackwood Comprehensive School.
In recent months, pupils at the school have been working with WIDF staff, who have been making a documentary along with Blackwood teachers Nicola Boardman and Kelly Coote.
On Wednesday, April 5, the pupils will view the finished film, chronicling their personal “journeys” throughout the project.
Head of music and performing arts at Blackwood Comprehensive, Neil Hawkins, said: “It’s fantastic that the festival is back. It’s a great time for creativity in Blackwood and in Caerphilly borough.”
Caerphilly County Borough Council also welcomed the festival, crediting its boost on tourism and Blackwood’s local economy.
A spokeswoman said: “We’re really pleased to welcome this popular event back to Blackwood for 2017,” a spokeswoman said.
“Last year’s event welcomed hundreds of visitors to the town and certainly helped to put Blackwood and its facilities on the map.”
WIDF’s artistic director, Dave Evans, added the festival has “stepped up” this year “with some great films in terms of subject matter”.
The award-winning film and TV director boasts credits including BAFTA Cymru’s Best Film in 2007, Daddy’s Girl, alongside credits on BBC, Channel 5, S4C.
“We want to get the whole community involved and have a positive impact on the economy and that’s really important,” he said.
“We were really successful last year in getting our volunteers into employment. They have gone into great jobs in the media because of working at the festival.
“One of the things we’re really pleased with is our relationship with (music and arts festival) Merthyr Rising.
“We’re working together and supporting each other and we can really become a bit of a powerhouse.”
He added: “We have survived the first year and the festival has grown exponentially. We’re very excited for the future.
“I have my own film and I’m looking at holding the premiere in Blackwood and making it more of a hub for film.
“These events are so important to communities and this is one to put Blackwood on the map and get it recognised all over the world.”
Full three-day festival passes are priced at £12.50 and are available through the Blackwood Miner’s Institute website, your.caerphilly.gov.uk/bmi/whatson/whats-on or box office, 01495 227206.
For more information on WIDF, visit widf.info/ or search ‘Wales International Doc Fest 2017’ on Facebook.