Kernowek by Troy Holt

Words and photography by Troy Holt.
Curation by Sophia Archontis.

It’s currently 5:30am and the sun is nowhere to be seen, as the brisk Cornish wind lashes around our exposed skin whilst we desperately try to set up the equipment under the dark umbrella of a sea cave. The reason for our urgency becomes clear if you turn your head to either side and notice the tide, not so much creeping, as charging up the beach – ever encroaching on the delicate 16mm film camera we keep protected from the rain under our coats. 

This particular scene will always encompass to me the whole experience of making the film, which as-yet has no name: rough, D.I.Y, held together with duct-tape and miles of enthusiasm; of course always one late actor or missing lens away from falling apart. 

Nonetheless, in three weeks the directors Matilda and Kilhan had it written, and in four days of filming with a small cast of students it was completed: a film that explores numerous folk stories and fairytales that make up the thread of the cultural fabric of Cornwall; from mining Knockers to the mermaids of Zennor cove, the story follows one man as he navigates an hallucinatory adventure around the Cornish coast. 

Though in many ways the plot is secondary to the environment and emotional atmosphere created; and I would argue that, for myself at least, the film is directed towards a greater appreciation for a part of the world that has become marred by something of an identity crisis. Cornwall is always something of a paradox, a rich man’s poor county tucked away in the heel of England, far from the concerns of the capital. And here is where the true dichotomies come to light: the grand second homes with six-figure price tags set against one of the poorest regions in Europe; beaches untouched throughout much of the year, filled to the brim through the summer months. 

Yet underneath this lies a cultural strata that is both rich and incredibly old, something to be unearthed, most recently and poignantly seen in the revival of the Cornish language (Kernowek) which was officially declared extinct but is growing in popularity over the county. 

To me this film, and by extension, these photos taken behind the scenes, are indicative of this process of reclamation, a process not long started but has the potential to reveal a vast heritage through stories forgotten or half remembered. 

Cornwall will always be to me a frontier: a physical frontier – the final outpost to the Atlantic, but also in other, more subtle ways too; and like all frontiers, there the best stories are found.


Words and photography by Troy Holt // Joint Honours English Literature and Philosophy student at Glasgow University. 

Matilda Butler and Kilhan Wittock // Directors

More by Sophia Archontis

Instagram // Portfolio