Wednesday 21 August 2013, 10:47
Legend has it that the corpse of a travelling circus elephant is buried somewhere beneath the beer garden of the Talbot Arms in Tregaron, Ceredigion.
Known locally as Jwmbi, he is believed to have fallen ill after drinking contaminated water and later died.
However, an archaeological dig of the area in 2011 found no trace of the fabled animal and some might say it is a convenient ploy to attract curious tourists to the area.
Now S4C is to make a film based on the story, which will focus on the tension created when a Victorian travelling circus arrives in the strict religious community of Tregaron.
Y Syrcas is directed by Twin Town director and writer Kevin Allen and was originally planned as a Christmas family film, although transmission may now be put back until early 2014.
Shooting finished in Tregaron last Saturday and involved two African elephants shipped in from Germany, Citta and Sandra, who take turns to star in the film.Citta and Sandra. Photo courtesy of S4C
I caught up with Kevin, whose four children, aged from 12 to seven feature as the children of the Irish circus owners.
He said: "It will be a wonderful family film with a bit of an edge. Although it's a universal story and not site specific, it felt authentic rooting it in Tregaron.
"Personally, I wasn't familiar with the Tregaron elephant story – I think there are lots of elephants supposedly buried all over the country and it's quite a convenient way of attracting people to the local pub!
"Narratively it's a lovely story and the dynamic between the young girl Sara and her religious father works really well."
In Y Syrcas, Sara's father, who is addicted to a form of opium, battles his own demons while supporting an austere Calvinistic sort of religion which is utterly opposed to the influences created by the newcomers.
Gradually less stern members of the community warm to the troupe and Sara is herself attracted to the excitement and vivacity of circus life compared to her own stark reality.Saran Morgan, who plays the lead role of Sara in Y Syrcas. Photo courtesy of S4C
Kevin said the presence of the elephants on the shoot was incredible but did add an extra dimension to the challenge of tight filming schedules.
He said: "The elephants bring so much to the film and they are such wonderful, gentle animals, but you can't hurry them or move them around just willy nilly.
"The budget was small so we couldn't afford a whole menagerie but audiences will get to enjoy a trained raven, a trained fox and a snake.
"My kids enjoyed getting to see the elephants too."
Despite the story only featuring one elephant, Citta and Sandra were brought over together to keep one another company and prevent loneliness.
They have been keeping the producers busy satisfying their immense appetites, which see each one munching their way through 120kg of hay (good quality, no dust); 25kg of horse Muesli (no oats); 25kg of bran; 15kg of apples; and 15kg of carrots every day.One of the elephants with Erwin Frankello, the elephant handler who looked after the animals, and actor Damola Adelaja (front). Photo courtesy of S4C
Thankfully the weather held out for the shoot and filming didn't over-run. Kevin was surprised the elephants didn't attract more attention from locals.
"We did keep them under wraps as we couldn't afford the time to stop for people to take photographs with them.
"They are both quite experienced actors from what I gather, so it was all in a day's work for them.
"Working on this production has been a magical experience on so many levels - the Tregaron landscape has been so inspiring and the presence of these magnificent elephants has most certainly contributed to the wonderful atmosphere on set."
Starring alongside the elephants in Y Syrcas are Saran Morgan, Damola Adelaja and Aneirin Hughes.
The script features several languages and cultures – Welsh, English, French, Irish, German, Spanish and Yoruba.
Gwawr Martha Lloyd, S4C Content Commissioner, said: "Y Syrcas is a warm and uplifting film that the whole family will enjoy.
"With a masterful cast and crew, along with fantastic costumes, set and locations, we can lose ourselves in the world of the circus and Victorian Wales.
"It's an ambitious project which bridges languages and cultures, with a wide appeal – with the legend of Tregaron's elephant at its core."
Y Syrcas is a production by fFatti fFilms for S4C, and it will be sold on the international market by distributors Aimimage.