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LONDON – For Welsh speakers growing up in school, Patagonia enjoys mythical status on a par with Xanadu or El Dorado, as places of mystery and folklore.
It is a region of modern day Argentina that, in the 1850s, a host of Welsh people emigrated to with help from the then nascent Argentine government to settle and usurp the native tribes already there.
But the Welsh fell in with the indigenous people and to this day there are still a small number of people living in a remote part of Argentina speaking both Welsh and Spanish.
Filmmaker Marc Evans, with an education that included lessons in the Welsh tongue, grew up with the tale of emigration to Patagonia ringing in his ears. He wanted to visit the mythical place of his childhood and ended up making Patagonia, a film shot in Welsh and Spanish languages. It is now chasing a foreign-language Oscar nomination berth, courtesy of a decision by BAFTA’s Film Committee to enter it as this year’s British pick.
His actor friend and fellow Welshman Matthew Rhys, who he has known since Rhys finished his training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art , was on board from the beginning through a shared fascination of the backstory. Then the stars aligned for Evans through his extensive music connections in Wales. Welsh pop phenomenon Duffy, riding high in the charts and having sold six million copies of her debut album Rockferry worldwide, came aboard.
“Universal Music was looking for an interesting project for Duffy. She was huge and they could have spent £100,000 on doing her live DVD recording but instead they put some money into the film and she starred in it with Matthew [Rhys] in the Welsh part,” Evans says. “I got a real buzz out of that part of the film coming together.”
The $2.8 million budgeted movie details the parallel story of a Welsh couple that travel to Argentina
to iron out their relationship and the tale of an old Patagonian woman and her nephew who go to Wales in search of their family history. Evans and cinematographer Robbie Ryan shot the two strands, one in the Welsh spring and one in the Argentine autumn.
“It’s a film that really came together in the editing,” Evans says. Two previous Welsh language titles, Hedd Wynn in 1993 and Solomon and Gaenor in 1999, actually scored Oscar nomination berths, but the U.K. has never won the nod.
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