DAVID SAUNDERSON talks to Black Country film-maker Tom Lee Rutter about his new dark docu-drama, Bella in the Wych Elm, which investigates an unsolved murder turned folklore in the West Midlands
DS: Tom, congratuatlions on your film, such a stylish and intriguing docu-drama. Tell us how the production came about?
TR: First of all thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the film, I’m very happy with it. It all came about when I was deep into the production on a much more ambitious film that I’m currently finishing up. I needed to take a step back for the time being and in doing so, wanted to focus on a smaller film I could finish in a more realistic time frame. I wanted to make something that was relevant to my area and something that was artful and spooky. I’d been watching lots of old supernatural dramas from the 70s and 80s and absolutely loved how much creepy atmosphere they could pull off on shot-on-tape sound-stages, very little budget and practically no special effects – and also most importantly how many would have a quaint sensibility against a pastoral countryside backdrop.
The Bella in the Wych Elm mystery had all the trappings of a good film and at the time there were none made about it, so it was the perfect subject to display these desired themes and had a great deal of fun researching it.
The film raises the issues of how events become urban legends. The Bella story is something that probably is not widely known outside of the local area, what has been the reaction to it from outsiders?
It has been seen by audiences and viewers/reviewers alike around the country (and beyond) and many have had such positive things to say about it. I’ve had folk respond with their own ideas on the case after seeing it so it’s great that it spurs audience speculation. In many cases people watch it out of their already established love for the mystery, and for those I hope it does it justice. We all love a good mystery and the unknown, and I made the film to play further than it’s local interests. There are so many elements in it to satisfy those with a love of Forteana and grim tales of murder and the dark arts. Scouring the net I’ve seen that the mystery has ignited the imaginations of folk all around the world. There is an extensive Greek article on the case and many Americans have made their own videos chronicling the mystery on Youtube, with one video stating that it took place in the city of Hagley! If you knew Hagley it would raise a chuckle.
There appears to be several theories to the Bella in the Wych Elm, why did you settle on the one you did?
I focused on the most popular and well known theories, as when I was researching found so many variations on the same ones or different ideas and bits of information from people phoning in – sometimes anonymously that to stop myself from falling down the rabbit hole decided to portray the most popular and visually stronger theories to form the structure of the film. I really wanted to enforce the supernatural aspects of the theories to compliment the dark, unsettling nature of the mystery and to really give the audience a spooky good time.
So you’ve launched the film, where to next?
To keep screening the film at both local and nationwide events, including film festivals etc and make sure the collectors DVD is always available. I will be pursuing folkloric and supernatural themed film-making further. Ideally focus on another Black Country themed film but where-ever the good stories take me.
The DVD can be brought here.