The world premiere of Gruff Rhys’s latest feature documentary, AMERICAN INTERIOR in Austin Texas, completes a 30 journey for film professor Christopher Morris.
Graduating from the Royal College of Art in the mid 80’s, Morris immediately set off across America on an ambitious solo documentary film, armed with a clockwork camera, some 16mm film, a cassette tape recorder and a wonky antique brass tripod.
His film was to try to shed light on the legend of Prince Madoc, a 12th century Welsh prince who is said to have discovered America 400 years before Columbus.
“Now I come to think about it,’ says Professor Morris, ‘I might have been a tad overambitious! I had very little money, incomplete knowledge of the history and only a vague plan – but I was young and survived for two months on cheap burgers and enthusiasm.”
Morris eventually turned his American journey into MADOC, a 30-minute documentary.
“I think its been viewed by about 10 people! It did however kick-start my career. A BBC producer in London saw it and offered me a job. It wasn’t the quality of the film that impressed him but simply that (in a pre-digital 80’s) I’d attempted to make it totally on my own!”
The film has sat unseen in a gradually rusting film can in the various offices Morris has worked over the last thirty year but he always thought of one day revisiting the story.
“It was simply a question of waiting for the right time as it’s a fabulous, tale of murky legend, political intrigue and ‘daring do’”.
Then in January 2013, ie ie productions, a Cardiff based film production company, contacted Morris to enquire if he’d be interested in contributing to their latest production – AMERICAN INTERIOR, a musical road trip documentary across America with Welsh cult musician Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals, Neon Neon).
“It turned out that Gruff was related to an 18th century Welsh explorer called John Evans who had also gone in search of the descendant of Prince Madoc, a tribe of Welsh-speaking Native American”.
Morris leapt at the chance and was brought on board as a story consultant working with the director Dylan Goch in the edit suite, helping to shape the complex story.
Evans left Wales for America in 1792 with only a $1.75 in his pocket. Alone and without a horse, he walked into the unexplored wilderness. During the course of his bizarre-yet-true adventure, Evans’s greatest achievement was to create the map used by Lewis and Clarke to discover the Pacific Ocean. Yet, Evans died broke and out of his mind in New Orleans at the aged 29, never knowing the impact of his odyssey.
The film, ‘American Interior’ is an investigative concert tour documentary retracing the fantastical American journey of Rhys’ 18th Century ancestor and the invitation for Morris to work on the film completes a long cherished ambition for the documentary professor.
“I’m bowled over. After 26 years, this is my chance to revisit the story… and in what company! Gruff Rhys is surely one of the most original sonic creators, I’m a big fan of his music - so I said YES immediately.”
The film is now finished and was premiered in Austin, Texas at the South By South West Film Festival 2014 to rave reviews. There is also an album, an app and a book to accompany the film.
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