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“Emotional rollercoaster” of a film helps put TV staff in seventh heaven

An “emotional rollercoaster” of a documentary about a former care worker with dementia who reaches out to an old school pal from Carmarthenshire is in the running for an awards double.

Eirlys, Dementia a Tim (Eirlys, Dementia and Tim) has been shortlisted for two prizes at the prestigious Celtic Film and Television Festival later this year – in the category for a single documentary and the blue riband Spirit of the Festival Award.

The programme was made by independent production company Cwmni Da who are in line to win a total of seven awards – more than any other television company in the history of the event founded more than 40 years ago.

It’s also half the number of nominations for all the other television production companies who make programmes for S4C.

The winners will be announced in September.

Grandmother Eirlys Smith, 60, from Menai Bridge, on Anglesey, lost touch with Tim Lyn, 59, who now lives in Llansteffan, near Carmarthen, nearly 50 years ago but she found him again on Facebook.

The result was a “hugely emotional and often hilarious rollercoaster of a programme that was shown on S4C.

As part of the programme, they recreated a quirky and uplifting music video to a song by the Australian singer, Tones and I, which topped the charts in 30 different countries last year.

In the original video two friends come to the rescue of an old man sat in a chair at home and ends up with them enjoying a dance party on a golf course.

Eirlys’s version, also starring her family and friends, starts with her rising out of a hospital bed and sees her, clad in leathers, riding off into the sunset as the pillion passenger on the back of a high-powered motorbike.

Before making the documentary, the duo had last seen each other when they were in primary school together in Menai Bridge between 1968 and 1970.

Eirlys was diagnosed with early onset dementia just before Christmas in 2018 and she made contact with Tim in January 2019. 

He had gone on to become an actor and an award-winning director who has made some of the most popular and acclaimed dramas on S4C, including Tydi Coleg yn Gret? (Isn’t College Great?), Eldra, and Fondue, Rhyw a Deinosors (Fondue, Sex and Dinosaurs).

The message she wrote to Tim via Facebook was blunt and to the point.

Tongue in cheek, she asked him whether he wanted to follow her journey with dementia until she became “doolally”.

At first, according to Tim, he struggled to remember Eirlys but the request particularly resonated with him because his own father, David Lyn, one of Wales’s most eminent actors and directors who passed away aged 85 in 2012, had also been diagnosed with early onset dementia.

The documentary highlights the challenges Eirlys faces day-to-day and  how she is dealing them.

Eirlys said: “The main message I want people to get from the documentary is that there is life after dementia, and I plan to live it while I still can because there is good in everything.

“My short term memory is awful but I remember more from a long time ago, including my school days. 

“I wanted to do the documentary with Tim to see if I could rekindle happy memories from when we were kids. I also want to film something that shows that Alzheimer’s isn’t the end of the world, and that my life hasn’t come to an end. I don’t need to sit in a corner with a blanket over my knees.

Tim said: “When Eirlys got in touch on Facebook we hadn’t spoken for around 50 years. She was very anxious before filming, but she became a different person during it.

“I think filming the documentary was an empowering experience for her.”

Producer Sion Aaron, from Cwmni Da, said: “We are massively indebted to Eirlys and Tim for making what is a hugely emotional rollercoaster of a programme that’s peppered with pathos and hilarity in equal measure.

“It has given us a much better understanding of what it means to live with dementia which is very important because it’s estimated that one in three of us will develop the condition.”

It’s believed Caernarfon-based Cwmni Da was the first broadcast company in the UK to become an Employee-Owned Trust just over two years ago.

The move saw former managing director Dylan Huws, who remains on the board, sell his shares to the trust.

The company employs 53 staff and a host of freelancers and is based at a state-of-the-art production centre in the Goleuad building on Victoria Dock.

Their output includes some of S4C’s biggest hits like Fferm Ffactor, Noson Lawen, Deian a Loli, and Ffit Cymru, as well as award-winning international co-productions like Llanw (Tide).

But the news about being shortlisted for seven awards heralds a new high water mark for the respected company that turns over around £5 million a year, making a significant contribution to the local economy. 

A documentary series, 47 Copa (47 Summits), that’s been selected in the sports category, features the successful attempt by endurance athlete Huw Jack Brassington, who hails from Caernarfon and now lives in Cockermouth, Cumbria, to conquer one of the world’s toughest mountain challenges.

Camera crews followed the former GB triathlete in treacherous conditions as he completed the gruelling Paddy Buckley Round, which sees runners covering a distance of some 100km and climbing 8,000 metres which it the equivalent of scaling Everest, taking in no fewer than 47 summits – all in 24 hours.

At the other end of the spectrum is the hit comedy series, Rybish (Rubbish), which was shot during the Covid-19 lockdown last year and set in a recycling centre.

A very different  lockdown show, Côr Digidol (Digital Choir) presented by talented tenor, Rhys Meirion, who hails from Porthmadog and now living in Pwllglas near Ruthin, is among the top tips in the entertainment category and showcases a rousing online performance of the famous Welsh hymn Calon Lȃn which went viral on social media with more than 190,000 views.

The uncertain future of a more traditional choir, Côr Meibion Trelawnyd, one of North Wales’s largest male voice choirs which has an average age of 74, provided the poignant backdrop for Y Côr (The Choir), that’s been shortlisted in the arts category.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the age range the 2020 Christmas special of the hugely popular kids’ series, Deian a Loli (Deian and Loli, is also up for a gong in the children’s category. 

Having so many of the company’s programmes shortlisted for awards at the Celtic Film and Television Festival was the source of “quiet” pride for Llion Iwan, who has taken over from Dylan Huws as managing director after originally joining Cwmni Da as director of content in 2019.

Llion said: “What stands out for me is that our programmes have been shortlisted in so many diverse categories which shows how multi-talented our team is.

“As a company, Cwmni Da has always punched well above its weight and this has gone to a whole new level after the company became an Employee-Owned Trust. Everybody is even more committed than before.

“We’re very lucky in that we have a core of highly creative and experienced directors and producers as well as younger people who are being mentored. 

“By re-organising our schedules and changing how we work, we have been able to continue producing programmes through the pandemic and we’ve done as much as we can to support experienced freelancers in our area who have been faithful to the company.  

“We’ve also continued to contribute to the local economy and our turnover last year remained stable at around £5 million.

“I’ve been going to film festivals and similar competitions such as this one for many years and I know that they are worthwhile especially if you gain recognition in several categories. 

“It’s an excellent shop window for us and it’s going to be good for business because it showcases what we can do.”