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Award-winning film comes home to Rhayader for screening

Ruth, played by actor and 9Bach singer Lisa Jên Brown.

Award-winning film ‘Staying (Aros Mae)’, which was filmed in the Elan and Claerwen Valleys, near Rhayader in 2019, was screened in the town on Saturday to thank the community who helped make it.

Written and directed by previous Elan Valley artist-in-residence Zillah Bowes, ‘Staying (Aros Mae)’ features members of the community as cast, including Stephen and Kerena Pugh who were chosen to play farmer Huw and his wife Megan.

The short fiction film is about Ruth, played by actor and 9Bach singer Lisa Jên Brown, a newly divorced gallery manager selling her city home, who sees a video of a sheepdog for sale and visits Huw and Megan in the hills.

The film captures a way of life in the Valley, where neighbouring farmers come together to gather sheep on horseback and quad bikes in the remote and beautiful landscape.

Most of the filming took place at Marchnant Farm, managed by farmer Steven Lewis and his partner Chris. Their sheepdog Mick is a star of the film, which was screened at The Lion Royal Hotel, Rhayader last Saturday evening.

Zillah lived in the Elan Valley for a year before shooting the film and got to know the tenant farmers and their way of life, while working on her long-term photography project Green Dark. She also spent time getting to know farmer Stephen Pugh and his wife Kerena to prepare them for the roles as Huw and Megan.

Stephen and Kerena, who live in Nantmel where they farm and run Lȏn Lodges tourism business, were introduced to her by one of the film’s three executive producers, Peter Cox, who lives near Rhayader

Kerena had acted before in the Rhayader Young Farmers productions and both she and her husband played part in the Rhayader Community Play written by Peter.

“We spent six months getting to know Zillah and understanding the storyline,” explained Kerena. “Our characters in the film were fictional and we had to take on the roles of Huw and Megan working as a farming couple.

“This film is very atmospheric because Zillah wanted to capture the feeling and essential qualities of everyday life in the Valley.

“We were involved in four days of filming and had never done anything like that before. We enjoyed the experience and it was quite a privilege to be asked to work with such accomplished professionals as Jack Thomas-O’Brien from Sixteen Films and cinematographer Robbie Ryan, to name but a few of the amazing team.

“Zillah gave a lovely speech thanking the community before the film was screened on Saturday. It has been screened around the world and shown at over 15 film festivals.”

Stephen added: “Zillah wanted to capture life today in the Valley as authentically as possible. So much research went into the film and the onus was on us to do justice to the Valley farmers.

“Credit goes to Steven and Chris Lewis because they gave up so much of their time.”

‘Staying (Aros Mae)’ has received widespread international recognition, winning awards at BAFTA and BIFA-qualifying film festivals including Grand Jury Prize at Premiers Plan Angers Film Festival and Special Mention at Encounters Film Festival.

The film was produced by Jack Thomas-O’Brien at Sixteen Films in conjunction with Ffilm Cymru Wales, BFI NETWORK Wales and BBC Cymru Wales, and is due to be broadcast on BBC Wales later this year and then available on iPlayer.

‘Staying’ won Special Mention at Encounters Film Festival in 2021. The jury commented: “The jury would also like to give a special mention to Zillah Bowes’ ‘Staying (Aros Mae)’ for the sensitivity and complexity of her storytelling.

“In ‘Staying (Aros Mae)’ Bowes immerses us in the quiet and idyl world of Mid Wales, a world devoid of stereotypical heroes or villains and instead populated by three-dimensional characters all dealing with their own particular inner struggles and repressions.

“Bowes’ empathy for her characters is evident in her use of image and sound to weave a naturalistic filmic tapestry that suspends judgements and instead, encourages exploration and questions.”

Redmond Bacon, who interviewed Zillah on Directors Notes, said: “The contrast between city and rural life has rarely been as keenly observed than in Zillah Bowes’ ‘Staying (Aros Mae)’.

“While its Cardiff-set scenes feel cool and clinical, the countryside opens up both the perspective of the film and the emotions of its central character – captivatingly embodied by Welsh actor and 9Bach singer Lisa Jên Brown – journeying to find a Border Collie in the wake of a break-up.

“At times approximating a western, the film uses the landscape in deep and evocative ways.”