Download the original score by Roesing Ape
Mystic Chords of Memory (2021, 109 minutes, HD) explores how people experience and maintain connections to their shared past and culture through narratives about place. Set in Cymru (Wales, U.K), this unconventional documentary touches on a breadth of topics and features locals across the country, including a storyteller who practices ‘mythic maintenance’ on his favorite historical site, a land-based artist creating work about the life of slate quarry workers, former coal miners, village elders, political activists, sheep farmers, and practitioners of indigenous Celtic spirituality. In weaving these seemingly disparate elements together, the film considers how both shared and personal identity are constructed through connection to place, and how stories serve as a means of cultural resilience and a vehicle of collective memory.
Mystic Chords of Memory arose out of my deep curiosity about the connections people form and maintain with the places they inhabit. Though I’ve lived in Portland for over seven years I still feel a strong attachment to the Los Angeles area where I spent most of my life, and in particular the beach communities where I grew up. While the natural landscape plays a central role in that attachment, local history, cultural narratives and personal memories are equally important. I am interested in that interplay between the natural world and the human world, and how that creates our environments, and in turn becomes such a big part of who we are.
I explored these ideas in my masters thesis on ‘sense of place’ in a Portland neighborhood close to my home, which only deepened my interest in understanding the relationship people have with places. Around this time I was also planning a trip to Wales, to see where my grandmother was born and lived for the first five years of her life. She didn’t talk about Wales or ever express any feelings of connection, so it always felt a bit like a severed thread or a loose end. At first I planned to make a short experimental documentary during the trip, but as I started doing more research about where I might like to visit and what I wanted to explore, I realized that making it a participant-centered film (rather than framing it through my experience) would be a more powerful way to connect with my subject.
Over the course of just over three weeks of shooting I met with almost 30 people, and recorded four musical acts, and the film is very much a collaboration with the participants. While there were topics and locations I was interested in, there was also a lot of room for them to decide what they wanted to share with me, and their voices come through strongly in the finished work.
I also recognized that my personal connection to Wales and my curiosity about ancestral roots and land was an important element in this exploration, and used it as a throughline for the film by visiting several locations where my grandma had lived or visited according to various archival records, including the town and home where she was born. Visiting those relatively mundane but significant locations was a testament to how much power places can hold, including the opportunity to connect with those who are gone. My mother’s recent passing also became a part of the experience and later the film, as I brought some of her ashes to scatter. She had never been to Wales and we had planned to meet up while I was shooting, but became ill before we were able to.
Without any external funding I made the film on the leanest budget possible, filling most of the production roles myself. We logged over 1,400 miles on the rental car, all the way across the country from Maesteg in the south to Anglesey in the north, driving on the left side of the road for the very first time. Overall the process and journey of making this film was deeply transformative. It was an honor to learn about Wales directly from the people who live there, and all of the different ways they care-take and honor the land, and by extension each other.