BillyCock is a fascinating exploration into a much-forgotten Cornish diaspora, combining memory and belonging.
The film grew out of a chance remark that put director Anthony Hopewell on the trail of a largely ignored story.
“I spend a fair bit of time in Spain and somebody mentioned that that there were some Cornish Engine Houses in Spain,” Tony told D&CFilm.
That was reinforced by a show at The Poly, which mentioned Linares, one of the towns that is home to the engine houses.
Cornish diaspora in Spain
“There’s a lot know about Cornish miners going to North America South America, South Africa, Australia. But the diaspora in Spain is barely recorded. Numerically it was much smaller.
“But there is the largest collection of Cornish engine houses outside Cornwall existing near the town called Linares in Southern Spain,” said Tony.
The engine houses themselves bear an uncanny resemblance to the the original Cornish ones – because in essence they were the Cornish ones, manufactured and transported to to Spain.
That led Tony hitting the research trail.
A letter home
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“What I really wanted was a letter from a Cornishman working in Southern Spain writing home to mom and dad,” he said.
At the time the Cornish people where economic migrants in Europe: the mines back home had become unviable, coupled with the scarcity of food caused by a potato blight (from the same source as the Irish potato famine).
“I failed to find a a specific letter from a specific miner back home. I ended up reconstructing a letter sent by a miner in South America, but reconfiguring it based on knowledge I had about the experience of miners in Cornwall,” said Tony.
All of this deals with issues around memory and truth.
“There are multiple truths,” said Tony. “There is no single truth, and memory is inevitably fragmented.”
This came at a time Tony was looking back to working again in ‘outdated’ mediums. The film was shot on expired 16mm film.
Memory and nostalgia
“It feeds into the notion of false memory. The outdated film has an inbuilt nostalgia to it which I’ve deliberately used to try to enhance the atmosphere of the film to underline those notions of memory and nostalgia.”
The word nostalgia was originally used to denote a disease of an unhealthy longing for the past.
Using analogue is something Tony’s pursing for his next film – a Super 8 road movie looking at the grand tour of poet Lord Byron, who departed from Falmouth.
And the title BillyCock? It’s the name the Cornish miners had for the protective head gear they wore.
BillyCock is at The Poly on Saturday, November 10 as part of the Cornwall Film Festival. Get your tickets!