Looking to show that some struggles are universal, whatever the location, Theodore Tennant’s 10-minute short Maesteg offers a rare and intimate glimpse of life in a forgotten town tucked away in the Welsh valleys. A quirky documentary about a taxi driver in the titular ex-mining town, Maesteg follows gruffly charming Stumpy as he picks up his regular fares and takes us on a journey of love and loss, with a sense of humor that only the Welsh can pull off.
A great story requires a great character. Tennant first became interested in Stumpy when he found himself in the small, remote town by mistake. Tennant, who had started a new independent cinema in Swansea, took the wrong train to work one day and ended up at the end of the line in the rain. Hailing a cab in a place he never heard of, he met Stumpy and immediately knew he wanted to make a film about him. Two years later, he came back with his brother to find him. It took two weeks of searching every pub, club and taxi in South Wales and the payoff was certainly worth it.
The characters that Maesteg captures are profoundly relatable, despite an almost unrecognizable version of English meaning that even with subtitles, it may be hard to understand the language because of the Welsh lilt and dialect. Yet, strangely you’ll understand enough to know that these somewhat depressed Maesteg folk are also some of the happiest and most hopeful.
Striving to make a film about what life is like in the valleys, Tennant wanted to document the sense of humor and hardships of living in a place where industry has uprooted and gone someplace else. It is this narrative, that is happening all over the world, that Tennant brings home a nostalgic yet present sense of community outlook on the matter.
Tennant explains, “Despite it being about a small forgotten community in Wales, I thought it could be relevant everywhere, so I wanted to get this macro and micro narrative running in tandem. The main thing I was trying to avoid was for it to just be a lament for the past, because I don’t think that’s useful – I wanted Stumpy and the other characters to tell and show what their lives are like now and ultimately find some beauty in that.”
In Tennant’s Maesteg, Stumpy takes us on a metaphorical and literal journey of the eccentric people of South Wales, each a wonderful vignette. Not only will this story make the world feel just a bit smaller, it will open your heart.
Maesteg was screened at Brainchild Festival and premiered at BFI Southbank, London. Tennant is currently working on two additional short films that we hope to see soon!