When Oscar Harding's grandfather passed away in 2006, he discovered amongst his possessions a videotape. That tape, which has been given as a gift, was one of the few pieces of evidence surviving to testify to farmer Charles Carson's sideline as a film director. Ad man come filmmaker himself, Harding has now made Carson's home movies the subject of a new documentary, A Life on the Farm, which is set to go global - but not before it screens in Wellington's Wellesley theatre.

Charles Carlson lived and worked in Coombe End Farm in Hush Champflower. There he taught himself the art of filming and editing, and used these skills to create a number of feature length and short films which provide a window into his eccentric and occasionally morbid perspective on the world.

Charles died in 2008, since which time many of his films, which were stored on VHS tapes, have been lost to history. But those that remain provide not just a valuable insight into the life and perspective of Charles Carson, but an important historical record of the area in the 1980s and 90s. The Wellington Weekly spoke with director Oscar Harding to learn more. He said:

“Charles’ films come across a bit like an anarchic comic strip. It is very morbid on first reaction ands something we have tried to do with the film is lean into that initial impression that people will have so that we can subvert it as time goes on. There is deeper meaning within that footage and a lot that we can learn from it. 

Oscar explained that Charles was keen for as many people as possible to enjoy his work, going so far as to make custom videos for particular residents of his village before quizzing them about their contents. He said:

“Charles was my grandparent’s neighbour in Huish Champflower. He outlasted both of them, and he lived there long before they arrived in the community. He was an aspiring distributor who would make these two or three hour home movies and create custom edits of the same movie in which he would insert footage of different villagers and give them their own custom edits.

“He would give them the films before coming back a week or so later to quiz them on it, and if they couldn’t answer enough of the questions correctly he would return again in a couple of weeks. This is someone who really wanted people to see his work and one of those people was my grandfather.

“Clearing out my grandfather’s possessions my family found this videotape. They had this vague recollection of their dad, my grandad, showing it to them once. My dad put on Charles’ tape before switching it off half way through, and I was never quite sure why. Once in a blue moon I would return to wondering what was on that tape. "

A Life on the Farm is director Oscar's biggest project yet
A Life on the Farm is director Oscar's biggest project yet (A Life on the Farm )

It was after a conversation with a friend about an eccentric bed and breakfast owner in the West Country that Oscar's thoughts again returned to the enigmatic tape. He explained:

"That conversation jogged some memories and I mentioned the old tape. It turned out my aunty still had a copy of the tape after all this time. I watched it as an adult. When you’re a kid you embellish memories and they seem more extraordinary than they actually are, but when I watched this tape it was even more astounding than it seemed when I was younger. 

“A Life on the Farm started off as a short film. I still had a couple of personal connections in the area because people knew my grandparents and the community of Huish and Wivey really opened up to us and became a part of it and supported it. 

“I moved to America when we were a couple of months into filming what was then slated to be a short film. In America I was twiddling my thumbs and then I found out about this community of ‘found footage’ fans and I showed it to them and they became absolutely obsessed and thought it was incredible. 

“They offered to put some money behind it and then we found more of Charles’ footage online. I don’t want to give too much away about what’s in that footage or who found it because that’s the important part of the story. 

Carson shot his films at his farm in the village of Huish Champflower
Carson shot his films at his farm in the village of Huish Champflower (Google )

“We soon realised that this had to be a feature film, there was so much to Charles’s life that was shocking, surprising and heart-warming, it opened up topics like mortality and death positivity – his footage is an important historical record of the area – there was just too much to contain in a short. 

Tragedy struck when Charles' wife died at a young age. It was as a widower that his creative pursuit of filmmaking exploded, and he produced hundreds of videos through the 1980s and 90s. As far as we know he did all this without the aid of computers, relying on mechanical devices and physical manipulation of film to craft his unique stories. Oscar described the production process as an 'impressive' feat:

"One of the reasons we find it so impressive and really admire him is that it is tricky at that age to pick up a new skill let alone video to video editing which he did, he composed them, did the artwork and all the rest in the middle of nowhere with no internet. 

“Charles did not use computers to edit his films as far as we know. He would have used a title master machine for captions, it was all very manual. As far as we can ascertain he was editing this stuff by hand in the way they used to edit film reels, literally cutting and pasting with scissors and tape."

The film is set to be screened at The Wellesley on Sunday, September 3, at 7.30 pm. It will go on to be shown in Bristol, Exeter, Dublin and Clevedon before getting a wide release when it will appear on Amazon, Sky, Google Play and elsewhere.

Oscar had a message for residents thinking about coming to see the film, and encouraged them to back a project which gives a voice to a region so little represented in cinema. He said:

“The film is the first time ever that a lot of people will have seen where they live on the big screen. One of the reasons we wanted to make this film is that apart from Hot Fuzz and Straw Dogs you never see this part of the world in film. Regional representation is so important. 

“Come out and support seeing your people and your region on the big screen, and experience an outsider artist who you never knew existed."

Tickets can be purchased at The Wellesley's website.