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  • Alice Briggs

Cof y Pridd / Soil Memories: an exploration of land use, farming and the environment

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

Last night I spent some time experimenting with projecting film onto our garden polytunnel to try out ideas for Cof y Pridd / Soil Memories. I've been working on the idea all year, with plans for applying for funding to cover the cost of as series of events and interventions, but Covid-19 put a pause on it all. So this is the first step in moving forward with the project which will take place in greenhouses and polytunnels across Ceredigion.


The work will explore new perspectives on our land for the future, bringing in communities together to create a manifesto for systems change in relation to land.

The project takes soil as its starting point; soil is the memory of the land, and soil is the key to life on the planet. Healthy soil is a healthy planet. Humans have a dynamic and symbiotic relationship with humans, shaping and cultivating it over the centuries. However, over the last 70 years soil in the UK has been eroding significantly.



I am going to be partnering with Aber Food Surplus, a social enterprise whose core aim is to prevent food waste and working with our local communities to build local food resilience. We will coordinate a series of events and discussions, with connections to the history and culture of food and farming in Ceredigion, utilising the National Screen and sound library of Wales, collections of Ceredigion Museum and Ceredigion Archives to draw out images, films and knowledge about the past.


Some of the events will include screenings of films relating to agriculture in the county. The film I played last night was called 'Shadow on the Mountains' and is one half of a two part documentary by Arthur Elton:

"Filmed in Ceredigion, this early piece from the British documentary movement is a hymn to hill country – modernist and romantic by turns, and visually very striking. Arthur Elton’s film contrasts two pursuits in a former lead-mining valley stripped of nutrition: traditional sheep herding and new scientific methods for restoring the pasture, developed at Aberystwyth’s Welsh Plant Breeding Station.
The film was released in two versions, Experiment in the Welsh Hills and Shadow on the Mountains. Arthur Elton, a core member of the documentary movement started by John Grierson at the Empire Marketing Board, remembered embarking on this, his first directorial project, without really knowing how films should be made. That makes his assured eye for dramatic compositions of the mountainous landscape, and of props and people framed against it, all the more remarkable. Reflecting the twin focus of his subject, there is a certain duality to Elton’s style: keenly referencing the modernist leanings of Soviet films that were such a big influence on Grierson’s school of British documentary filmmaking but also (like some of the Soviets) borrowing the genre imagery of the Hollywood western (not to mention the British tradition of romantic landscape painting). Viewers today might find it intriguing to compare the film’s style to a notable modern-day American documentary about sheep farming, Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s Sweetgrass. Shadows on the Mountains is also available on the BFI DVD Soviet Influence: From Turksib to Night Mail. This government film is a public record, preserved and presented by the BFI National Archive on behalf of The National Archives, home to more than 1,000 years of British history." - British Film Institute
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