Meet The Beacons Filmmakers: Sion Thomas

To celebrate the BBC broadcast of short films made through our Beacons scheme, Ffilm Cymru are sharing a series of interviews introducing the new and emerging Welsh filmmakers that made them

3 September 2020

Inspired by the novel “White Ravens” by Owen Sheers, Sion Thomas’ dark drama Dirt Ash Meat tells the tale of Rhian and her brother Dewi as they struggle to keep the Welsh hill farm they inherited from their father running during the devastating foot and mouth outbreak of 2001. As the disease reaches their doorstep Rhian tries to control her increasingly unstable brother.

Ahead of the screening, we sat down with Sion to talk about adapting stories from page to screen and shadowing Euros Lyn.

Hi Sion, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a filmmaker from south Wales. I’ve worked on TV, feature films, my own shorts including Dirt Ash Meat and recently a music video for Private World which you can watch here.

Why did you choose this story to tell?

Dirt Ash Meat has a personal connection to my childhood. I was nine years old when Foot and Mouth disease became viral in south Wales and I can still vividly remember how hellish that time was. Considering its impact on people’s lives I remember thinking there hasn’t been very many films, if any, that have taken on this period of time. I wanted, in some small way, to try and rectify that.

How closely did you work with Owen on the adaptation?

I approached Owen to ask if he would allow me to adapt his novel ‘White Ravens’. He encouraged me to take the source material and interpret it in my own way. His trust allowed me the freedom to adapt the novel for screen. Many of the original elements changed in order for it to work as a short, but the setting, characters and most importantly the feeling stayed the same. I was nervous at the premiere for Owen to watch it. I kept thinking he’s going to turn around and say “What did you do to my book?”, but instead he was full of praise.

What kind of support did Ffilm Cymru & BFI NETWORK give you?

Ffilm Cymru and the BFI have been hugely helpful throughout the whole process. They helped in developing the script, giving advice on finding the right producer, giving notes on the edit and on how to get the short out there once it was done.

You’ve done some shadowing and second unit work with Welsh filmmaker Euros Lyn (Dream Horse, His Dark Materials); how did you get those opportunities?

A few years ago, I found Euros Lyn’s email and out of the blue sent him Stiff Punch, a low-budget short I made about wrestlers in the valleys. To be honest, I didn’t really expect to receive anything back, but he responded with two to three pages of notes on my short. From there, I started to send my work to Euros for notes and eventually he asked if I would like to shadow him on His Dark Materials. I was meant to do the same on Dream Horse but the day before I was due to come in I was asked if I would like to shoot the second unit. It’s all down to Euros being an incredibly helpful and supportive man.

What have you been watching during lockdown?

I’ve been rewatching a lot of documentaries like The Act of Killing, When We Were Kings and Slasher. Fiction film-wise I have watched a lot of films by Spike Lee and Todd Solondz. Also recently I watched an old play for today from the 60’s called Robin Redbreast, which inspired The Wicker Man. That was particularly cool and creepy.

What do you have planned next?

With support from Ffilm Cymru I’m currently working on the script for my debut feature Pig Eyes; a weirdo coming of age story set in a fictitious valleys town. I'm also finishing post-production on another short called Face Down In The Back Of A Car, and I’m currently in the process of setting up a new production company / film collective with some other young Welsh filmmakers which I am very excited about.

Watch the trailer for Dirt Ash Meat here.

Dirt Ash Meat was produced by Catrin Lewis Defis through Ffilm Cymru and BFI NETWORK’s Beacons scheme in association with BBC Cymru Wales. Watch it on BBC 2 Wales on Friday 4th September at 10:30pm (the film will also be available on iPlayer following its broadcast).