Mobile cinema brings film back to Upper Afan Valley

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Built at the turn of the last century, the Blaengwynfi Hall was once the cultural centre of the Upper Afan Valley.

The cinema was open every night, showing the latest films as well as performances from choirs, opera and theatre companies.

Along with the popular classics of the day such as Gone With The Wind, silent films were often screened with a live piano accompaniment.

Now, more than 50 years since the last showing, film is to delight local audiences once more, via a mobile cinema programme which aims to put it at the heart of community regeneration.

The Film in Afan van travels the Upper Afan Valley showing monthly screenings for families at schools and community centres thanks to a £250,000 grant from The Big Lottery Fund Wales.

The Film in Afan mobile van

Following conversations with the committee of the former social welfare hall, which was recently renamed the Gwynfi Miners Community Hall, the pop-up cinema will be visiting for the first time next week.

The film of choice is Disney's Wreck-It Ralph, chosen to provide some local entertainment to children during the half term break.

Film in Afan project manager Caroline Lane said the idea of the project, which has been devised by Film Agency Wales, was to build trust and enthusiasm in communities which do not have easy access to cinema due to poor transport links.

She said: "Film in Afan is a three year project which has been going a year and has seen us screen films in various villages across the valley, at community halls and schools.

"We have had good turnout so far with up to 60 people at a screening which shows there is a real appetite for it.

"It's been particularly pleasing to bring film back to the Gwynfi Miners Hall because of its long history and connection with cinema."

Cinema tickets at a Film in Afan event

One person who is delighted to see the return of cinema to the village is 84-year-old Olive Phillips.

Olive was married to the cinema's projectionist Phillip Ronald Phillips and would accompany him on trips to Cardiff to find films to screen in their village.

Phillip, or Roy as he was affectionately known, started working at the picture house aged 14 and remained as the projectionist until its closure in the 1960s.

"The first film I ever saw there was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I cried all the way through it," said Olive.

Former cinema projectionist Phillip Ronald Phillips. Photo: Ron Hill

There is currently a big push to restore the hall to the heart of the community, after a committee of people from the neighbouring villages saved it from demolition by the council by proposing regeneration and securing a 25-year lease.

Committee member Peter Bowyer told me: “We are planning to show a series of films at the hall to coincide with the school holidays, and ticket sales for next Wednesday are going well.

"There is a big renovation planned as there is flood damage to the basement where the gym currently is and where the cinema used to be.

"We are hoping that in the next two years we will have upgraded downstairs and can return the cinema to its original home which will be great for the village.

"The plan is to set up a monthly film club because it is practically impossible for people from here to get to the cinemas in Port Talbot and Maesteg."

As well as a cinema service, the three-year Film in Afan scheme will offer training opportunities and work experience from filmmaking to venue management.

Caroline added: "We are training people to use the equipment and when the project ends we will gift it to the local communities in the hope they can keep the pop-up cinema going.

"We do charge a small cover fee for the films in the hope that that money can be used to help with screenings in the future.

"The feedback so far has been really positive. And with some of the films we have shown, like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, we have had younger people helping with teas and coffees and enjoying the film along with older people which has made it inter-generational."

Film in Afan's screening of Wreck-It Ralph takes place on Thursday 30 May. The film starts at 3pm and tickets can be bought on the door or in advance from, with concessions and family deals available for the half term.

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