I met Caroline Juler back in the winter. She was making a film about Brynberian and the extensive renovation of their community centre. I came away from our brief conversation wanting to know more about this seemingly shy woman who fell into film making using her smart phone just five years ago.
When we managed to meet up on a gorgeous Pembrokeshire summer’s day I asked her to tell me something of her background and what led her into her passion for film making.
Caroline explained that she had studied art history and worked as a free lance writer.
“I was writing for Galleries Magazine”, she explained, “And meeting artists all the time. When the people started throwing off communism in the late 1980s, I had a fascination for eastern Europe. It started with Hungary and Czechoslovakia and their underground artists. When someone gave me a ticked to a performance arts festival in eastern Transylvania, that morphed into Romania.”
“I went on an overnight train from Budapest. The train was very rowdy, full of kids going on hiking holidays. I couldn’t sleep, so I sat up and looked out of the windows. When the dawn came up, we were in Transylvania. It took my breath away.”
What impressed and delighted Caroline as her trip progressed was the traditions of family life in the region. “ It was very different from the U.K,” she explains, “There was much less industrialisation with families working the land together.”
At the time she had many friends who were interested in growing their own food and she hated London, where she had a flat. She feels very lucky to have found her home in Brynberian where she has lived with her partner since 1999.
Caroline learned Welsh and continued with her work as a correspondent for Galleries in Wales. Despite writing several books based on her Romanian travels, she was never entirely satisfied with writing as a medium.
“ About five or six years ago I started experimenting with recording on my smart phone. I knew that this was something that I really wanted to explore further.”
During her years of travel and exploration Caroline has made many contacts among all kinds of people, including anthropologists in Romania and activists in the Ukraine. Romania’s rural heritage has been an inspirations and there she developed an interest in traditional shepherding.
Greatly impressed with the work of Dragoş Lumpan, a Romanian photo journalist, she helped him get a show in Narberth’s Queens Hall. In return, Dragos gave her the contacts she needed to walk with shepherds on the road in Romania. This experience forms the centrepiece of her next book, Carpathian Sheep Walk. (She has a blog about shepherding with the same name.)
“I learnt a lot about shepherding that I hadn’t come across before. It’s fascinating for example that there was a tradition of walking across country into southern Russia and into the Caucasus. Romanian farmers settled there and some intermarried, and their descendants are there today. I have been really interested in finding out more about that history. Following another lead, I got the chance to visit Georgia and look for Romanian traces there. We even discovered a Romanian shepherd who settled in western Iran. They went everywhere – even to the USA.”
“Having the time to look around Romania, I began writing for From Our Own Correspondent on BBC radio. Using a camera or phone for visual notes led me to want to make films”, she told me.
Caroline shyly insists that she is neither brave nor adventurous but her life has included many varied and courageous activities and events. She has given a speech at a Medical conference on behalf of a friend for a medical charity in Romania, where hospitals are woefully underfunded.
One of her first films was a video about a Baptist charity in a part of north-east Romania where there is a lot of homelessness.
Another lead took her to Kyiv, where she fell in with some activists who had supported the Maidan protests in 2013-14. One was an amateur film-maker and medical student, Another was a Breton journalist whose uncle lived in Lviv. She went with them to eastern Ukraine to make a film. The film was ostensibly about the massive voluntary effort Ukrainians made to support their vulnerable, under-equipped soldiers. It had another agenda: to investigate rumours of fascism in the Ukrainian voluntary militias.
Now, with so much bewildering material, Caroline was finding herself at sea. She needed help to edit and critically analyse her work.
“Unlike writing which is so often solitary, film-making is collaborative,” she explains, “and I desperately wanted advice. So when I happened on a free course in media production designed for school leavers in Aberystwyth I jumped at the chance.”
Caroline feels that she really struck it lucky, not least because of the interest and support of tutor Sophia Behraki, an ex-Channel 4 editor.
Not that the whole thing was easy. “At the start I was travelling 100 miles, for four days a week, and having to get used to classes starting at 9am. Then I got a room in Borth which eased a lot of pressure. Getting the freedom to imagine and create was wonderful and having people believe in you… well…that’s huge.”
During her second year she was tasked to make three films, one fictional, one documentary of choice and one a documentary as if working to a brief.
“Brynberian Village Hall was being refurbished so I asked if could take that process as my ‘brief’. The National Library of Wales and its oral history programme were very helpful with this, as was Planed. Because the building is not yet open, the recording is on-going, but I’ve made interviews with some of the people who were at the Hall when it was a primary school in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as newcomers to the village. It’s a wonderful project and I want to make the film available to the community.”
I asked Caroline what she is working on now.
“I am making a film about the peace walker, Julie Marsden”, (look for our article on Julie’s work in the magazine.) “The trailer is completed, and the rest is a work in progress.”
She is also working with Sarah Sims Williams to make a promo film on Non Violent Communication. (We have an article on Sarah’s work here.)
“I want to do something with the work of Elizabeth Haines, a painter near Maenclochog. She’s studied philosophy and is fascinating to talk to. I have a lot of footage of her beautiful work and studio. But there’s another plan afoot: to make two films together: one about new ways of recycling clothes and the other about bringing wool back into fashion. When my partner and I were helping send some second-hand clothes to a friend of ours in Nigeria, we made contact with Linda Booth at Cardigan’s Ecoshop. Linda is a passionate recycler and very knowledgeable about what happens to unwanted clothes in our society. She is also extremely articulate and gave me a great interview for a film I made using some of my friend’s Nigerian footage. I’m looking forward to collaborating with her.”
Sounds a very busy and fascinating life.
To find Caroline’s books go to:
Searching for Sarmizegetusa
On-line version from https://amsterdampublishers.com/books/searching-for-sarmizegetusa/
Print versions from https://www.abebooks.com/9781899530113/Searching-Sarmizegetusa-Starborn-Paperbacks-Caroline-1899530118/plp
Other books include Blue Guide Romania, National Geographic Traveler Romania, Les Orientalistes de l’Ecole Italienne.
To contact Caroline: email@example.com
To see Caroline’s videos: visit Caroline Juler on YouTube and Vimeo.