Fairies in Cherry of Zennor
A fairytale come true
By Laura Joint
A Dartmoor-based community group which makes films based on British fairytales has won European funding for a cross-Channel project. And they're also getting a helping hand from Oscar-winning concept designer Alan Lee.
International harpist Elizabeth-Jane Baldry has always had a fascination for British fairytales.
Ever since she was a young child she has believed in the presence of fairies, and she once saw one - rather incongruously - sitting on some discarded potato peelings in the rubbish bin at her home in Chagford on Dartmoor.
It was her only ever sighting, and she hasn't told many people about it: "They'd think I was mad," says Elizabeth-Jane. "It was a bright golden ball with a shimmering figure inside.
"I didn't know what to do so I quickly put the bin lid back on! And then I took it off again, but the fairy had gone.
"It's very interesting how pervasive and widespread fairy belief is in this country, but people keep it quiet."
In Chagford, however, the history of British fairytales and fairies is being celebrated very publicly in film form.
Elizabeth-Jane - harpist, filmmaker and fairy fan
The Chagford Filmmaking Group was borne out of school holiday boredom in the summer of 2004.
Elizabeth-Jane's two teenage sons, Edmund (now 21) and Alex (now 19) were bored, so Elizabeth-Jane came up with the idea of making a fairytale film.
The result was Woodwose, a 32-minute film based on a Grimm fairytale. Around 20 people from Chagford were involved, including Edmund and Alex, as well as their friends and parents.
Elizabeth-Jane recalls: "It was a case of 'oh, let's get on and do it.' I did a little camera course at Phoenix Arts in Exeter and we hired a camera from Phoenix, who have been great.
"We always show our films at the Picture House in Exeter and lots of people came to that first one. They laughed their heads off, which was lovely.
"But I know there were mistakes in it which I've learned from."
Five years later, and the group has received EU funding for what will be their 7th film, which is being made as part of the Shared Legends Project with the Centre de l'Imaginaire Arthurien in Brittany.
The 52-minute film is based on the 12th century fairytale, Sir Lanval, which was written down by Marie de France who might have been the sister of Henry II.
The tale is set in Arthur's court and features a particularly malicious Guinevere.
Filming will take place on Dartmoor and in Brittany during the autumn of 2009 and in May 2010 before the premiere in Exeter's twin city, Rennes, in October 2010. The UK premiere will be held in late 2010.
The films are a community effort in Chagford
The funding of 58,000 euros will also go towards exhibitions of the props and costumes. There will also be an exhibition of 20 specially commissioned paintings by 10 British and 10 French artists, inspired by the fairytale.
The Chagford group needs to raise match-funding of around £7,000.
Elizabeth-Jane will be directing and co-writing the film with US professor of folklore, Prof Ari Berk, who lectures on Marie de France.
Luckily for the Chagford Filmmaking Group, they have an Oscar-winning conceptual designer on their doorstep.
Alan Lee, who lives on Dartmoor, won an Oscar for his artwork on the Lord of the Rings trilogy and he has contributed designs for the Chagford films.
"Alan does all the concept sketches for our films," says Elizabeth-Jane. "Alan and I have been friends for years, going back to the 1980s.
"The fireplace with ogres in our film, Peerifool, was designed by Alan, and he's going to do the concept sketches for Sir Lanval, even though he'll be busy working on The Hobbit movie."
The acting roles are largely taken by local people in Chagford, but professionals play the key parts and a professional actor will be playing the lead role in Sir Lanval.
Alan Lee designed the fireplace ogre in Peerifool
As if directing and co-writing the film wasn't enough, Elizabeth-Jane will also be writing the score and playing the harp on it.
Elizabeth-Jane is the world's only silent movie harpist. She writes and performs scores live to classic silent movies all around the world. In 2008, she wrote and played the score to Peter Pan, made in 1924.
"The harp is such a fairy instrument," she says. "It's quite magical - it's one of the things which drew me to it."
Her big ambition now is for the fairytale films to get a wider audience: "I would love to be able to do bigger productions.
"I feel absolutely committed to these British fairytales. I love the fact that they are part of our landscape. They are spirits of the land and are rooted in the locality, like a spring, or a hill, or a cave.
"The stories tap into the child in all of us and they make us smile. Not all fairytales have fairies in them, but fairies are very big in folklore and I do choose the stories with fairies in them.
"And although the plots are bonkers, the stories are true on a psychological level. The film we've just done, a Cornish fairytale called Cherry of Zennor, is about a young girl setting out on her adventure and falling in love with a total cad.
"It all goes badly and her lesson is that she gives too much of herself.
"Einstein said 'if you want your children to be clever, read them fairytales and if you want them to be brilliant, read them more fairytales'.
"And you can't argue with Einstein can you?".
last updated: 11/02/2009 at 10:50