Red Flannel: Liberating Women on Film



Michele Ryan, one of the founder members of Red Flannel Films, talks about the collaborative process of creating the film Mam in 1988.

Red Flannel Films

In 1981 a group of Welsh women film-makers set up the cooperative South Wales Women’s Film Group. Deirdre Beddoe was part of this group. They were reacting against being marginalised as women and as film-makers. During the miners’ strike in 1985 many women became politically active; some of them channelled this activism into setting up Red Flannel Films in 1986. The members of this collective were Michele Ryan, Clare Richardson, Claire Pollak, Carol White, Penny Stempel, Frances Bowyer, Eileen Smith and Pearl Berry. The film Mam (1988) was about the history of the women of the Valleys in South Wales, as well as the education and career options open to them in the 1980s.

Do you know of any films written or directed by women? Do you think the fact they were written by or made by women is significant?

Film credits

Producer / Director: Lizzie Thynne

Editor / Research assistant: Peter Harte



The lives of the Welsh working classes came under scrutiny in 1847 when three Anglican commissioners, who had no knowledge of Welsh people or their language, were appointed to investigate the state of education in Wales. They concluded that educational standards were low, that the use of Welsh should be strongly discouraged, and that Welsh women were lacking in morals and domestic skills. This report became known in Wales as The Treason of the Blue Books.

The first film we then got commissioned to make from Channel 4 as a franchised women’s workshop was a film called Mam. Because we’d been involved in filming a documentary on women’s lives during the miner’s strike it felt that there was a real focus for forming Red Flannel, and why we wanted to locate ourselves in the area. Red Flannel works as a collective in most situations. Everyone was involved in the research and the script development and everyone was involved in production. Everyone would take on different skills, different jobs. At the same time when we were making Mam we also encouraged women who’d been part of the screening groups to come and work with us doing things like catering, organising stuff, admin, just skilling them up really. And we provided a crèche so somebody else looked after the children while they helped to work on the film. It was possible for that to happen because with Channel 4 funded workshops you were given four salaries, so four members could be paid a full time salary. In your application you had to document your other activities, so our screenings, our training education was part of our application every year and was funded by Channel 4.

I would have liked to have had an education and go out in the world and it wasn’t to be for me because my brother was coming behind wasn’t he, and all the money had to go for his education. I would have liked to have gone further and seen if I could have gone to college, but at the time we were expected to leave school at fifteen and get out and earn as soon as possible to put money into the home.

You’d have to spend quite a bit of time because a lot of the women would say ‘well why are you interviewing me I’m just a wife, I’m just this I’m just that, my story isn’t interesting’ and sometimes we might spend two or three hours for a five minute interview or three minute interview because it took a long time to make a woman feel relaxed, to get her story out of her, to make her feel confident.

There was no work for women in the South Wales valleys, so we’ve got a sequence in Mam where the experience of so many of the women we interviewed was that they were sent to London to work as domestic servants because that was the only kind of work available to them. There were a lot of tears, often from men, because they would say it’s the first time they’d heard their mother’s story or realised the work that women had put in to keeping the mining communities going. Then we showed it in lots of different places. There was always that feeling that women’s role and contribution to history was up there on the screen. What I think was really good was that it brought together a kind of feminism, socialism and a Welsh identity that pulled all of those together into something collaborative, democratic and expressive.

Red Flannel: Liberating Women on Film
Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
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