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The Fairytale World of the Chagford Filmmaking Group

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Because of my work as a font designer I often come into contact with interesting projects and artists who are working in various media. With fonts needed for movie titles, book covers, and play programs among other uses, designers come to me for fonts; as a result, I get to find out about the projects they are working on. Because a lot of the fonts I design are historical or fantasy themed, I’m particularly tied into the fairy-fan subculture, and that’s where I discovered Chagford Filmmaking Group.

Chagford is a specialized little film company which has been making short films based on classic British fairy tales since 2004. The group is the brainchild of Elizabeth-Jane Baldry and is financed primarily with grant money and through the efforts of volunteers. Their short films use relatively unknown actors, a lot of kids and some of the most beautiful parts of the British countryside to create evocative and faithful adaptations of familiar and unfamiliar folk and fairy stories.

Chagford is a non-profit organization located in the lovely medieval town of Chagford in Devon on the edge of Dartmoor. They use mostly local talent and community resources, though they are getting more ambitious and their latest film had auditions in London and grant money from the European Programme of Cross Border Cooperation, which is making it possible to film part of the film in Brittany. The villages and countryside of Devon and Cornwall provides ready-made fairytale settings and the look of their films is rich and beautiful as a result.

So far they have done six films with a seventh in production. Each successive film has been more ambitious than the last, with more special effects and improvements in production quality. They’ve also gotten somewhat longer, though they have yet to undertake anything feature-length. Elizabeth-Jane Baldry is the primary director and composer for the films. In fact, the whole project got its start in her kitchen, with the group having then planned their first few films there.

They started with a short film called Woodwose in 2004 and followed it with an very short film of the story Pottle o’ Brains in 2005. No clips of these films are available on their site or on YouTube. However, a short musical clip from their half-hour film of the ballad Childe Rowlande is available on YouTube (see above). The 38-minute film Cherry of Zennor is their first somewhat commercial venture and it is available for sale on DVD. Several clips can be found on their YouTube page.

Their fifth film is based on the Orkney folktale Peerifool and had a recent theatrical premiere on March 28th. It has not yet been released on DVD, but it looks as good as Cherry of Zennor, so hopefully it will be available for sale as well. Production has already been completed for The Laidley Worm, which is now in post-production.

They are currently in production on their most ambitious film yet, a version of the Breton Arthurian tale, Sir Lanval, made in cooperation with the Arthurian Society of Brittany and scheduled to premier in Rennes in October. They have yet to release much in the way of footage or previews for these upcoming films, but from stills and clips on their website they look promising.

What the Chagford Filmmaking Group is doing is fascinating from both an artistic and business point of view. Some of it is also a bit mystifying. They are making interesting films and making creative use of great material, but so far they don’t seem to quite have a handle on what to do once the films are made. Their efforts at marketing are sketchy and they’ve made little effort to make past productions available either for free to promote interest, or on DVD or through paid download. They seem to be making the films mostly for the love of the material and for their own entertainment.

Clearly it helps that they have been able to get public funding — and quite substantial funding for Sir Lanval, which has a budget pushing $200,000. But I hope at some point they will take the logical next step and put forth a greater effort to make their work available to a broader audience. I think there is a real commercial market for well-made short films of these little known but entertaining stories. Right now the DVD of Cherry of Zennor isn’t even available on Amazon UK, much less Amazon US.

With all the work that they’ve done on these films and the quality of the results Chagford Filmmaking Group not only owe it to their actors and crew but also to their potential audience to get them out more widely. Hopefully that will happen with Peerifool, The Laidley Worm and Sir Lanval. With three productions coming into release in one year, they’ve stepped up their efforts to a new level, which I hope means they’ll be making a bigger commercial effort once they have a larger body of work to market.

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About Dave Nalle