Maesteg is an ex-mining town in the Welsh Valleys, where Stumpy’s been driving taxis in for over 20 years
2nd January 2020 by Will Stewart
Stumpy drives taxis. He’s been driving taxis in Maesteg, an ex-mining town in the Welsh Valleys, for over 20 years. A lot has changed. This short documentary follows a day in Stumpy’s life as he picks up his regular fares and journeys to the heart of life in the Valleys.
‘Maesteg’ is a story of love, loss and community.
MadeGood – Please give me some background on yourself as a film maker, and how you got into making films. Is this a typical example of your work?
Theodore Tennant – I started making short films and animations when I was a teenager with my brother Tom, who I made Maesteg with. I had always done photography so it seemed like a natural thing to do plus growing up in the country there isn’t much to keep you occupied. I went to art school in London where I made more experimental documentary film installations. I’m not sure if Maesteg is a typical example of my work as the confines of making a film for TV isn’t something I’m particularly used to – I think the themes in this film are definitely typical of my work – our relationship to place and a collective history.
MadeGood – Are you local to Maesteg, otherwise how did you find out about the town? What made you want to make a film about it?
Theodore Tennant – I’m not a local to Maesteg but was living nearby in Swansea. I actually found Maesteg and Stumpy completely by accident after falling asleep on the wrong train to work. I woke up in Maesteg, an ‘end of the line’ town with no more trains for the day. I got out in the rain and called a taxi and met Stumpy for the first time. A lot of the film we ended up making was an effort to recapture that first encounter in which Stumpy just regaled stories the whole way. I mean he really is the film, the taxi was just a great narrative and literal vehicle to take the viewer on a journey into the landscape and its history.
MadeGood – The film is really funny, personal, and heartwarming to watch. It’s also quite sad to see the lack of opportunity in the town. It’s very hard to make a film like this, did you go into it with a clear idea of what you wanted it to be, or did it evolve a lot as you filmed it?
Theodore Tennant – Firstly, thank you – I’m really glad you got that from the film. I think I was more clear on what I didn’t want to make which was solely a lament for Maesteg’s ’better’ days which has become a bit of a trope in films about ex-industrial communities. The community there is incredibly strong – I think kindness, warmth and humour are bedrocks of Welsh society and I wanted that front and centre – to not include these elements would be disingenuous as it’s there everywhere you go.
Going into the filming we had a pretty clear outline of what we wanted however there was absolutely no way of knowing who would get into the taxi. It was a combination of being flexible whilst maintaining a general framework in your mind as more and more people got added to the mix.
MadeGood – The BBC and BFI are credited as executive producers. What was your relationship with them? Did you get some good opportunities to screen the film as a result?
Theodore Tennant – Working with the BBC & BFI on this film was great – they were a big support throughout along with Wingspan Productions who were my primary contact throughout the production. It was more or less my first experience making films for a production company which was a bit of a learning curve. Luckily due to the nature of the funding, which was for first time filmmakers, there was a level of understanding and a sense of easing us in which I’m very thankful for!
I think, for me, the best thing about working with organisations as big as the BBC or BFI is that you know in the back of your mind the film you’re making will have an audience. I’m not sure if this alters how I make a film but it definitely gives you a healthy amount of pressure.
Maesteg was originally screened at BFI Southbank & on BBC4 which was great. We were just really glad the film managed to find its audience and people connected with Stumpy and the community as much as we did.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Theodore Tennant – I’m currently working on a documentary photography project which I’m hoping will end up as a book. It tackles similar themes to ‘Maesteg’ but is broader in its scope.