Documentary Best Foot Forward covers resilience, community and the power of stories. It’s one of the lockdown films from director Lewis Carter and producer Kate Beasley, which manage to find the heart in isolation. The other is Lifeline. Both are at the English Riviera Film Festival.
Nos Galan Road Races
Best Foot Forward focuses on the Nos Galan Road Races, the historic New Year’s Eve event in the small ex-mining town of Mountain Ash. Director Lewis Carter and producer Kate Beasley followed two families as they prepared for the races and shared what it means for those runners.
Guto Nyth Brân
The Nos Galan race celebrates the life of legendary Welsh runner Guto Nyth Brân, who ran quicker than a boiling kettle and almost faster than the speed of light – well, faster than a blown-out candle, anyway.
Making the film was a test for the filmmakers.
“It was a bit of a risk to make stuff in lockdown,” says director Lewis. “We’d come off a large production with a big budget. Going into these films, we had pretty much the opposite of that. So it was a good test of our ability to persevere regardless.”
The two families in Best Foot Forward aimed to put a challenging year behind them by running what turned into the first-ever ‘virtual’ Nos Galan Road Race.
“We had a fantastic crescendo planned, where the people would run and have this cathartic experience of running the race at the end,” says Lewis. Then there was the lockdown back and forth and the planned ending had to evolve with the situation.
“In a documentary format everything is in flux – it’s changing, and you’re reacting to what you’re filming,” says Lewis. “You push forward and you do whatever you can do.”
The filmmakers had to be nimble and sensitive to the conditions participants, who were so keen to get the documentary completed and their voices heard.
Best Foot Forward captures a sense of striving in the face of difficulties, helped by the charismatic characters.
“Lewis reached out,” says Kate. “He knew of Nancy’s father from a previous film we’d done called Showdown. That’s how we found out about Nancy and her cystic fibrosis.”
And they contacted Nos Galan legends, Alan and Sally, through Facebook. “They always win the Best Dressed,” says Kate with admiration.
Lewis says: “We put the casting call out for people as you would for a narrative film, and we were really pleased by how many people wanted to be involved.”
Lewis had wanted to make something about Nos Galan since hearing the legend of Guto Nyth Brân.
Myths and legends
“It’s a very Welsh thing to contextualise our history through myths and legends. I wanted to use this very specific Welsh legend of the fastest man alive, who came from a small village in South Wales, to tell a story about modern-day people who were themselves surpassing expectations and create their own inspirational stories. To use that legend to highlight modern-day inspirational people like Nancy, Allen and Sally.
“People have championed the film, which is always nice. It’s a story about overcoming whatever limitations the world places on you and achieving something regardless of where you come from. That is present in all the people featured in the documentary.”
The sense of community is reflected in the race itself, which will be virtual again in 2021.
“Everyone’s reaction to the film is to be inspired,” says Kate, who mentions how much people learned, not just about Nos Galan it, but cystic fibrosis. “Nancy was the heart of the film,” she says.
Lifeline is a very different film. It’s a drama formed around a series of conversations between two colleagues working remotely. Their lives seep into the meetings, creating a supportive relationship under trying times. This is a straight on, split-screen two-character piece.
“For me, human connection is the thing that drives stories,” says Kate.
Lewis says: “We made Lifeline early on in the pandemic. Even though there are only two characters, we did want to feel representative of the lockdown experience in general. The way we did that was not by trying to make them all things to all people, but by making their story unique.
“It’s not really a story about lockdown, it’s more of a story about two individuals who meet each other at a point in their lives when they both need each other. Everyone can relate to that.”
As filmmakers, there is always a desire to be bigger than the previous project.
“When lockdown came around we were forced to put our beliefs on show and say, we really do believe that films are about story and character, first and foremost, even if you can’t get the best visuals or have the biggest budget,” says Lewis
The limitations emphasise the storytelling.
“You could put those characters in any situation and people would love them just as much,” says Kate. “But the style of being boxed in – it’s them, the camera, and their personalities – that’s what heightens the characters for me.
“A lot of what we took from it is how much the actors were inspired to help us. On our instruction, they were doing their own lighting, they were setting up their own cameras.”
For Lewis, it was getting back to basics.
“We did double down on our independent guerilla filmmaking background. No one’s going to do this for you unless you’re lucky enough to work in a studio system. These are the kinds of films you get when it’s four people in isolation, striving together towards a common goal,” he says.
“When people watch this film in the future, they will get a snapshot of history. Even though it’s not a factual film, the story will carry like a truth.
“This is a different kind of truth to what’s in a history book. It’s a truth of how people felt, how they interacted with each other, the way they talk to each other. And the way that even though we were more isolated, and we needed each other more than ever. The role of the film artist or filmmaker is to tell them to insert truth into their story, however they can.”
Lifeline and Best Foot Forward are part of the English Riviera Film Festival
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