Downwood Film Productions is home to a wide range of South Wales history documentary films, ranging from Porthcawl and Bridgend to Port Talbot and Maesteg.
At Downwood, the emphasis is very much on high quality, and most productions are shot on 16mm, with 35mm reserved for the most ambitious films in the company’s output, “Dangerous Coast” (1997) and “Ghosts of Glamorgan” (2012). Producer and cameraman Anthony Hontoir uses cameras which are themselves part of cinema and television history but still capable of giving first-class results with the distinctive film look.
This comes as a surprise to many people in the digital age, when it is assumed that film has become obsolete, but the fact is that traditional celluloid film provides a picture quality that digital video cannot match. The image is softer on the eye, with a more subtle rendition of colour and tones, and the black & white look simply cannot be surpassed.
Most of the cameras are Arriflexes, ranging from the 16ST model of the early 1960s and the 16BL, which was the mainstay of television production work between the late 1960s and early 1980s, to the Arri 16SR, which is the most recent addition. The company also uses two 16mm Bolex cameras and a 16mm Bell & Howell Filmo. 35mm productions are shot on an Eclair CM3 Cameflex and Downwood Films also owned a Wall newsreel camera for a two-year period during the filming of “Ghosts of Glamorgan”, although this has now been replaced by an Arriflex 35 2B.
The film cameras, when they are out and about on filming work, invariably draw a look of amazement from members of the public, who are often surprised to see them still in use. When shooting a scene in the Windsor Arcade for “A Story of Penarth” in 2015, a passer-by was captivated by the sight of the Arri 16SR camera on its tripod. When the motor was switched on, it turned a visible part of the camera mechanism and the gentleman watched it in fascination, realising that he was looking at a traditional movie camera.
One of the biggest advantages of shooting film is that it endures, whereas digital formats keep changing. Once a digital format becomes obsolete, where is the guarantee that it can still be played?
I have video tapes from some of my early films, transferred from the edited prints, that have long gone out of date and it is difficult to find machines that can still play them.
Excerpts from most of Downwood’s local history films may be viewed on YouTube, and all of the films, in full length, are available on DVD from this website. In addition, the sea safety film “Help!” (1990), made in association with the RNLI, and the beach safety film “The Beach Ball” (1991), produced in association with the Royal Life Saving Society UK, are also on the Downwood Films YouTube channel.
There is another side to the company’s output, and this includes promotional material for businesses and, on a more domestic level, the recording of school concerts and shows. For these productions, digital video is used as it is the most cost-effective method – film is ruled out because it would be too costly and impractical.