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Helen's film making proves a hit with the viewers in cyberspace.

As an actress and writer Helen Griffin has succeeded.

She has a Bafta Cymru award, film, television and theatre credits, but still succumbs to occasional feelings that she should have done better.

But that may all be about to change. The Bafta Cymru award winning film Little White Lies, which she wrote and stars in, is now topping an internet vote for distribution and a $1m prize.

The dark comedy about racism and family relationships, was originally shown on ITV Wales in 2005, and went on to get best film prize at Spain's Cartagena Film Festival and accolades at the Moscow Film Festival.

But although the makers Red and Black Films hired an agent to sell it, Little White Lies never went on general distribution, much to both their and Helen's disappointment and against the tide of fans it attracted.

Since first being broadcast, the film has shown to sell-out audiences at Swansea's Taliesin Arts Centre, and now the world can download it free on the web as part of the Amazon Studios contest.

And fans from Australia to the US and back have been downloading it as the word spreads speedily online.

Helen, 52, who grew up and still lives in Swansea where the film is set, is delighted that the democracy of the internet may succeed where the mystery of film distribution didn't.

But she's not counting her chickens yet.

Before being considered for the $1m prize, the film must be in the top three at the end of January to win an initial $100,000 prize.

"If we could win that first prize it would be amazing," Helen says.

"That would pay off our financial backers for the film.

"It would be amazing to get the $1m, but our hopes are focused on January at the moment."

On current progress, the film is in the running for both.

Little White Lies is currently ranked first for drama, second for comedy and third overall in the contest between 6,000 projects. The success of the film rests not only on people downloading, watching and reviewing it, but also giving it good reviews.

So Helen, the other actors and film makers, have been busy drumming up support in cyberland.

"We all sent out emails to everyone we've ever met in our lives," Helen says with a laugh.

"We sent it to everyone in our address books and they sent them on to all their mates.

"Some people had also seen the film on ITV Wales or at Taliesin.

"We're getting people voting in the US, Australia and parts of England where we don't know anybody."

Helen is delighted to read good reviews, but that's tainted by sadness that it's taken so much time for the film to be recognised.

"This really is a last attempt to get it distributed," she says.

"It's a real boost every time someone reviews it and you get praise.

"If I read someone in Boston saying the messages of the film are universal, well I think that's fantastic.

"But I also get frustrated, because I think it should be out there in cinemas.

"All actors and writers go through periods where we think we should have more success.

"And I think Little White Lies is the best thing I've ever done, and don't understand why it didn't get distributed."

As well as receiving festival accolades, Helen received a Bafta Cymru award for best actress for her portrayal of Karen in the film.

Karen struggles to deal with her layabout armchair politician husband, daughter Serena who no longer talks to him because she's fallen in love with an Indian and son Steve, a closet racist.

Shameless star Jonny Owen co-stars with Brian Hibbard and Sara Lloyd-Gregory as Serena, and so far the film has 191 reviews in the Amazon contest, 181 of which have rated it five-star.

Perhaps the universal theme of the film and the zeitgeist has finally brought it to attention.

Little White Lies examines the paranoia of racism and how it affects one Welsh family in ways it could affect families the world over. Helen first wrote the script as a play Flesh and Blood, following the killing of an Indian newsagent who was beaten to death in a racist attack in Neath.

The play debuted at Cardiff's Sherman Theatre in 2000 before Helen turned it into a film script.

"Since I wrote the play there have been several more attacks. I don't think that things have changed really," Helen says.

"Casual racism is linked to active racism and the most dangerous thing is when it becomes active. Things may be getting better in schools, though.

"St Helen's School down the road from me in Swansea is very multiracial and kids today aren't brought up on prejudice so much."

Helen says she tried not to preach in the film, wanting simply to tell it how it is and engage people in the story and possible consequences of their views.

"Possibly the film will give people pause for thought about what casual racism can give rise to," she hopes.

"I think that Wales, and the rest of Britain, is a less insular society than it used to be, but there is more Islamaphobia now than when I wrote the play.

"But we have to be more tolerant of people who are different. We don't have a choice.

"The definition of being Welsh is no longer whiteskinned and brought up in chapel."

Growing up in Swansea, Helen attended St Joseph's Roman Catholic Primary and Bishop Vaughan RC High School, where pupils were predominantly white, but of mixed background with many from Italian and Irish descent.

"My Welsh identity growing up was that the priests and nuns seemed to want us to be Irish!" Helen jokes.

Her love of acting started at school where it was encouraged by her English teacher, but not her parents who were told by other teachers that acting was a precarious profession.

They dissuaded her from doing drama O-level which she still regrets, but after A Levels she got into the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama to study acting.

At the end of the first term of the foundation year, she and the rest of the intake were told that just two girls and five boys could carry on to the acting and movement degree for three years 'because that reflected the profession'.

As Helen came third out of three considered for the two places on the acting course, the college suggested she stay and do the theatre and education course.

"I'd gone there to learn to act so decided to leave," she says.

"My confidence was terribly knocked and didn't come back until I was in my mid-20s.

A dispirited Helen trailed back to the family home in Swansea, where she took the first job she saw advertised.

The role of nursing assistant at the Cefn Coed psychiatric hospital turned out to be not only interesting, but totally life changing.

Helen went on to study for a degree in psychology and sociology at Brunel University and London's Maudsley Hospital and became a psychiatric nurse.

"I like to think that being a psychiatric nurse has informed who I am, my writing and my acting and gives me an interest in what makes people what they are," she says.

"If you look at what makes people break down, it helps you understand.

"Hopefully, as both an actor and writer, you're aiming to understand people and the way they are."

A fellow student on Helen's course was comedienne Jo Brand, with whom she has remained close friends. Later they wrote and performed their play Mental about their joint experiences as psychiatric nurses.

"We're still great friends and have stayed very close," Helen says.

"And we are talking about maybe writing something else together, but Jo's very, very busy."

After finishing her nursing training, Helen returned home to Swansea to work and got involved in amateur dramatics, still determined to be an actor.

She wrote to companies asking for an audition and eventually got one with West Glamorgan Theatre Company who gave her a much coveted Equity card.

"At the time, I thought I'd got an Oscar, it was so hard to get an Equity card and you couldn't work without one. Of course that's changed now," she says.

Card in hand, Helen hasn't looked back. Her TV credits include Satellite City, Holby City, Wycliffe, Dr Who and Gavin and Stacey.

Film work includes Twin Town, Solomon a Gaenor and Human Traffic as well as Little White Lies, while on stage she won acclaim for her one-woman show Caitlin MacNamara, based on the wife of Dylan Thomas, among other projects.

Throughout her career, Helen has also had a dual interest in politics.

She's well known for her anti-war views and travelling to Gaza with a convoy from Swansea. In 2004 she stood as a candidate for the European Parliament as a member of the RESPECT coalition, and in 2006 she was arrested and cautioned for hand printing red paint on the National Museum in Cardiff in protest against Israel's actions in Lebanon.

Recalling her arrest, Helen says she still feels bad about the red paint, though not the protest.

"I didn't know it was going to soak in," she explains with a grimace. "The paint was from the Early Learning Centre and I'd practised on concrete in the garden to make sure it washed off.

"The museum was so angry with us because the pillars are very old and absorbent.

"When it happened, the police said 'OK, wash it off', but the museum was so angry they said 'arrest them'."

Helen says being locked in a cell for 12 hours from 8am to 8pm was horrendous.

"I hated being locked up. I can't tell you how horrendous it was. I had nothing to read, the food was awful and the peephole in the door stank of excrement.

"They said they'd let us off with a caution if we accepted we'd done criminal damage," she says.

"It was awful, but nothing compared to what happens to people in some other parts of the world."

Helen says she was politicised at home.

Her father had worked his way up to become a manager at the local steel works and had run-ins with the unions while her mother was 'quite an extreme socialist'.

This led to interesting talks at home between Helen, her three sisters and their parents.

She became interested in Middle Eastern politics after 9/11 while she was trying to understand what turned people to terrorism.

On a convoy to Gaza, she met Palestinians and Israelis with who she's still in contact.

This has led to a love affair with the region and Helen has friends on both sides of the divide.

"There are so many Israeli peace activists," she says.

"I feel very attached to the place now and have a good friend from Swansea University who is from Ramallah. I stayed with her family and she took me around the West Bank."

This interest has spawned Helen's latest work, The Tunnel, a film script set on both sides of the security wall being built by Israel to keep Palestinians out.

The Tunnel tells the story of a Palestinian man who, finding his village encircled by the wall, flees to Israel to join a nearby kibbutz.

"His Hebrew is good and there's no difference in the people, so he lives as a Jew in the kibbutz," Helen explains.

But back in his village, his fiancee is pregnant with his child.

This could be death for her in a small, Muslim community, so he digs a tunnel from the kibbutz, under the wall, to try to get back to her.

Helen hopes it's a balanced story, putting the people on both sides of the wall before the politics.

Red and Black Films, makers of Twin Town and Little White Lies, want to make The Tunnel and progress is being made trying to find financial backing.

Helen is excited that a film company in Dubai has shown some interest and the Israeli Film Agency has also been approached.

While that's on the boil, she's planning another one woman show and plugging away with the Amazon contest.

So 2011 will be a busy year, making it all the more important Helen relaxes over the festive period. She was joining family celebrations at her sister's in Swansea, where 13 relatives gathered.

"We celebrate a traditional Christmas," Helen says.

"I forgot to have children and it's too late now, which I really regret sometimes, but I have nephews who will be there."

Her nephews, aged eight, 11, and 21, enjoy having an aunt to spoil them, so she had everyone back for Boxing Day and made one of her legendary trifles.

"I always make it, it's a real tradition.

"I do it every year," reveals Helen.


A poster for Little White Lies, the Helen Griffin film shot in Swansea Scenes from the Welsh-made film Little White Lies, which is in the running to win a $1m internet prize Actress and director Helen Griffin relaxing at home in Swansea
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 31, 2010
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