O’r Evil DeadGwaelod Llyn – Interview with Charlotte Williams from Hiraeth Film by Rhodri Prysor


You can listen to the podcast here.


This is an interview with Charlotte Williams from Hiraeth Film, which is a Youtube channel which does documentary films on the history of Wales. We’ll be covering a range of topics, including on how young people can make their own films, grassroots, in North Wales.



Hiraeth Film is a small mini-documentary Youtube channel. I started it because for the longest time I wasn’t super aware of Welsh history in particular. Coming from South Wales we get some parts of it, but you don’t hear much about the history further than Brecon or something like that. So when I moved further North, to Welshpool, I started travelling a bit further around Wales, I learnt a lot more about different areas of Wales, different events, historical and cultural things. 

The idea was to retell or reexamine bits of Welsh history and reintroduce them to a newer audience that may not have had the opportunity, either in school or outside of that, to actually engage in that history. And try and tell it to a different audience, to a younger audience that may not have known about these things at a young age. That was the idea, to retell and re examine and re explore those different parts of history that sort of make up Wales.


How does Hiraeth Film operate?


It’s not my full time job, I do work full-time, so it’s a lot of part time, a lot of weekends, when I get time off and things like that. So it kind of fills up the space I should be spending relaxing! Currently it’s sort of a three person job, I do most of the writing, directing, editing, most of the things you see on screen. Then we have a sound producer who does all the recordings for interviews, goes and does all the sound checks, does all the sound editing and things like that. And Ben Gwalchmai who lives nearby does the majority of the voices you hear on our films, so anytime you hear someone talking it’s usually him. That’s kind of how we operate as a three-person volunteer-led sort of group, people come in and out, some people lend a hand for different things, for example on bits of graphic design work for us, we have people who do bits of animation work, bit of after effects work, but it’s all sort of, do what you can with the time you’ve got, and not sort of forcing people into doing too much, just what people feel most comfortable doing.


You mentioned you had a full-time job. How is it to balance your job with the film work?


It can be quite difficult to balance that, you know, if you’ve worked all day the last thing you want to do is come home and sit down and fiddle around with Premiere all night and try to fix its millions of problems at any given moment. So it can be a challenge. That’s sort of why we take a little bit longer when we make things, we don’t try and rush that content out. It’s kind of an unspoken contract with our audience, because I think people expect that when they get the film it’s gonna be highly produced, it’s gonna be as professional as a couple of people can make, it’s not gonna be just thrown together just to make content. We try our best to give it 100%, but that just takes a little bit longer, So it can be quite challenging.

For the Celyn documentary we were fortunate that in the first episode the location we were looking at, Dolanog, was relatively close by, but then when it came to Vyrnwy which is still relatively close but still about three quarters of an hour to an hour’s drive away, depending on whether you’re stuck behind tractors and things. So we had to plan to say, right, these are the weeks that we’re gonna shoot this. And especially with the size of something like Vyrnwy, because it’s a massive reservoir, we couldn’t shoot it all in sort of one week or one day so we had to plan and say, today we’re gonna shoot just this section, and then, it might be a couple of weeks before we move on to the next section and stuff. And I think in some ways that does work quite nicely, for example with the Dolanog episode, since it took us longer to shoot that (because of covid and things) we had that changing of the seasons. So weirdly, by taking our time and only being able to schedule in certain ways meant that we created that narrative, of a full year in this village. For some reason this way of working works for us, so I won’t question it.


Out of interest, what is your full-time job?


I work in education full-time. I teach film. It’s quite nice in aspects, I get to talk about film all day and then come home and make my own, and I think they like that as well, it gives them a sense of the vocational angle to when they’re watching films, or producing their own films, they have someone they know that makes the things, and I’ve done all the same mistakes and pitfalls that they have when they make their film, so they can feel comfortable and confident that there’s someone there that knows kind of what they’re doing? Sort of?


So film’s always been a passion for you then?


Yes. It started when I was about 13, 14. I watched The Evil Dead, and probably shouldn’t have – I was scared to all hell, but I was like, this is so cool, how they’ve made this, because that film… isn’t as technically brilliant as other films, but it wears quite a lot of that on its sleeve, and you can see sort of how things are put together in that film and how it was made, and yeah, films aren’t just things big studios make for millions and millions of pounds, people will sometimes just make something for relatively cheap with a group of friends and pull that together through whatever bits and pieces they can, and whether it looks real or not, it doesn’t really matter, it’s the experience of watching the film itself that matters. And I think that’s what really inspired me, so I think about a week later I stole my dad’s camera when my parents were away somewhere, I stole the camera and we made our first zombie horror film, as everyone does, everyone makes a zombie film first. I ban them. In class. We’re not allowed to do zombie films anymore, because I’m not marking another one ever again. 

But yeah that was where I started and grew from there, documentary was never the thing I ever thought I’d do. It was never something I was super excited about in university. But moving away from the people I made films with meant I sort of had to do different things, and I can make this kind of stuff by myself or with a small group of people, I don’t need to get actors into things. And that’s how it sort of shifted, where as I get older, I kind of want to shift into making some narrative things in the future, but that’s all years and years away from now.


Do you feel Wales in general is harder for specifically fiction film to get off the ground?


I think it has been in the past, I think there has been that sort of – the lack of support maybe is not the word, but when you compare it to somewhere like Scotland, for example, and their film history, it’s quite burgeoning, and it’s quite vibrant. I think we’re seeing the beginnings of that, with The Feast and stuff, but I think there’s been that feeling that maybe we had to chase other countries, chase what Scotland’s doing or Ireland’s doing, and I think maybe that’s where we tripped up as an industry in Wales, feeling we have to grab what they’re doing over there or try doing their thing. And I’ve seen that we’re starting to tell our own stories within film, and within narrative films as well, where people are taking Welsh myths, Welsh history and incorporating that into their films. I’ve seen recently someone has announced they’re working on a Mari Lwyd horror film, which – it feels like it should have been done before – because it’s such an obvious thing that nobody has said ‘I’m gonna make that’. 

We don’t have to be the same as any other country in the UK when it comes to filmmaking, we can tell our stories and tell them for us as well. I think we can tell stories for the people in Wales, and still have that element of going outside of the border and letting people have a snapshot of what we have here, maybe we’ve felt too scared to talk about that stuff, and maybe- there’s a growing confidence, I think, which is kind of exciting?


What would be one takeaway you’d want a viewer to have watching one of your films or, say, one of the parts of Fel Gwaelod Llyn?


I really like it when I get those comments of, oh wow, I didn’t know this, or that’s kind of interesting, I’m gonna find out more about that. So for example, the original plan for Fel Gwaelod Llyn was to make an hour and a half film, and Dolanog was originally going to be a footnote, it was gonna be two or three minutes of the film, and I thought why don’t we expand that into a fifteen minute film, so it meant then that we could research and explore those things in a lot more detail. And the amount that people have said they didn’t know the history of Dolanog before seeing that film, and how that it relates to Capel Celyn, and how the history is almost beat for beat exactly the same especially considering it was only a year or so before, and then, people want to go and learn a little bit more about that history, so that’s quite nice.

That’s what I enjoy from making things, really. If I look online and I can’t find anything on the history of Dolanog on youtube I sort of get excited, because I go oh we’re gonna make a little thing that’s our little niche over here, and even when we did the second episode on Llanwddyn, there’s lots of videos that talk about the history of Dolanog and Llyn Efernwy and stuff like that, they exist, but we had that chance to maybe bring in some bits that are glossed over, for example the original plan for London to drown certain sections of what is now Llyn Efernwy and looking at how close their initial plan was to what became the final plan. That stuff’s quite fun, when it hasn’t been talked about in the same way, or not given as much attention. 


It’s true what you were saying. I didn’t know about Dolanog at all before I watched that episode.


It’s fortunate that it was so close to where we live, because very early on when you could only go certain distances during covid and things, it meant we couldn’t drive up to Llyn Celyn. So that kind of put a massive stop to a lot of what we were making, so we had to look closer, and I thought, this is kind of on our doorstep here, so why don’t we talk about it in a bit more detail, we could have just done the sort of potted history of Capel Celyn as read by Wikipedia, but we have the chance to try something different. When we do the Capel Celyn episode, let’s talk about the 30 years before that announcement. Let’s talk about the weird tidbits of history that came before, (such as) the distillery that was about five miles down the road, and places like Frongoch, the ‘university of revolution’ as they called it, which wasn’t far, how the railway network was built, and all these little areas and stuff that don’t get talked about, that we have the chance to. So when it comes down to it you can watch our content against someone else’s and get the full picture, the entirety of that sort of, I guess, 150 years of aqua politics in Wales.


I find it really effective in the Dolanog episode where just talking about the place in the context of Capel Celyn being a drowned village, and having the camera wander through this very sleepy village and talking about how now it’s like a country retreat for people – it’s interesting to think about if Capel Celyn was never drowned, it might be full of holiday homes or something. It’s often taught in schools, the story of Tryweryn, and then it’s often regurgitated in the simplistic logic of ‘us vs them England vs Wales’, without reference to the material conditions at play.


It is the constant struggle of making something that’s politically charged, in certain directions – When I was talking about the project, I had a message from someone saying ‘I hope you don’t try and give Liverpool their side of the story’. But the way I try and angle that is every aspect of that story has to be told, the good bits and the bad sections. I’ve had people tell me I should shy away from the people who sabotaged the Llyn Celyn operation – because in some ways there is that level of romanticism, I guess, towards what happened, whether people would like to admit it or not, I think they do have that drowned village romanticism. 

But I always say we have to talk about things, we have to talk about what Liverpool was like in 1865 and how that led up to Llyn Celyn, we have to talk about how different people had wildly different opinions. We talk about the political aspect – it all boiled down to capital. It always boiled down to, who has the money, who has the influence, who has the power, and that’s what shaped what happened. In a lot of cases it just boiled down to it was cheaper and easier, and that’s the sad part of it, there is no romanticism, there’s nothing beyond ‘that’s cheap, that’s easy to drown, let’s do that’.

The same way there’s so many places in England that were cheap and easy to exploit so they did it there, or, even in places like the US, it’s been the same thing. And when it came to the political aspect, we had to go into that sort of especially in that first episode, we had to go into the criticism of Plaid Cymru in that beginning of the Dolanog campaign, because the people of Dolanog didn’t really want that political interference, they really felt that it cheapened their argument, which was different from Llyn Celyn or Capel Celyn, where plaid Cymru’s involvement was a lot more overt, and maybe in some ways that does lead to where they are today as a party, whether they’re successful or unsuccessful, that can be led back to these threads and these links. It is a very difficult tightrope to walk, and it can get quite politically charged, but it started because I visited Llyn Celyn for the first time and it was that political charge: ‘this feels horrible being here and it makes me angry, I wanna make a film about it.’


Do you think your mode of working is a good example for people who want to pursue film in north wales?


What I can say is we have access to this massive platform like YouTube and this massive platform like TikTok (which I’ve never delved into) and I think that is a really exciting way of working, it moves out of that traditional television broadcast sense and into that sort of self-created content, and I think youtube and those kinds of platforms are a brilliant way to start, not just posting your own content but the communities that spring out of that, the ability to find advice and guidance and things. I think it’s an interesting thing that a lot of young people don’t produce enough content within Wales, and maybe that is the worry of ‘do people want to hear me, with my Welsh accent, talking about Wales?’, and the answer is yes, someone will! If you make a short film about some local legend, people will watch that, because it’s exciting, it’s interesting, it’s different, it’s new, and I think that’s the one positive, that Wales is growing as an industry means that there’s all these opportunities for people to tell original stories. We’re only a small country but we’re a nation of storytellers, a nation of myths and legends.

The way we do things is exciting, because I get to do things on my own, or when I want, but the downside is we sort of self-fund everything, so if you’re looking to make something with lots of money – that’s not the path that I would take, but, if you just really wanna tell those local small stories of what we call the pocket history of Wales, then yeah! I started making things about a year before youtube launched as a platform, 2004-5ish, and they just stood on my hard drive when I made them, they didn’t go anywhere. When this platform launched, I could show 20 people, 30 people, 40, then you’re in the thousands of people watching your content. I think it’s about having that confidence to say, you know what, people would like to hear about some weird myth or some weird legend from my local town – every town in wales has this little story that should be told, and everyone should hear about them, so I think it’s a great platform and a great way of doing things if you’re willing to accept that you’ve gotta work on it in a different way, and you’ve really gotta push yourself in developing subscribers, developing a brand and name for yourself and really getting yourself out there, but if you’re willing to do that then you kind of have the freedom to make what you like!




Thanks to Charlotte for speaking with me and to you for reading. Hiraeth Film can be found on YouTube.


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