South African cinema is usually synonymous with Jamie Uys. However, African cinema is directly associated with Lionel Ngakane, a black South African who was forced into exile in the early 1960s.
Ngakane's entry into film making occurred in 1950 when he worked as Zoltan Korda's assistant during the making of Cry the Beloved Country. In 1962 he bought a 16mm camera and filmed sequences of Vukani/Awake for Derek Knight and Partners (London).
In 1966 Ngakane was invited to Vienna with other Third World film makers to a symposium on Third World Cinema organised by the Socialist Party of Austria. It was there that he first met a few African film makers. After formal and informal discussions Ngakane realised that African film makers had common problems in funding their films and securing adequate distribution on the continent. He suggested that the few delegates at the symposium discuss the idea of an African film makers organisation. It was decided to present the ideas to film makers attending the prestigious Carthage Film Festival in Tunis the following year.
In 1967 in Tunis, the Pan-African Federation of Film Makers (FEPACI) was created. The following year the inaugural conference was held in Algiers when the constitution was drawn UP, and officers elected. Ngakane was made Honorary President.
The aims of FEPACI are to develop Cinema on the African continent by:
stimulating film productions by independent film makers and also through co-productions
striving to have African films distributed throughout the continent, primarily, and internationally, and as a secondary aim, persuading governments to recognise the importance of cinema in the social, economic and cultural education of their populations. Governments to be persuaded to adopt cinema policies that stimulate the development of cinema in their countries and regionally
having at least two regional film schools to cater for Francophone and for Anglophone students. These schools are to be of international standard. In addition, FEPACI aims to:
Develop national film productions and co-productions in the region,
Persuade governments to have enlightened cinema policies and create national film corporations, Establish and develop a third African film festival (in addition to Carthage in Tunis and FESPACO in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.
Ngakane was the only active member of FEPACI from South Africa since its inauguration until the mid-1990s. He has been on the Bureau since FEPACI was formed, and one of the five members representing the five geographical regions of Africa as delimited by the Organisation for African Unity. Later, constitution FEPACI Constitution was amended and he was elected Regional Secretary for Southern Africa. The region is made up of:
Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, Angola, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa.
As regional Secretary for Southern Africa, Ngakane had to foster regional co-operation of the national film makers associations and try and fulfil the aims of FEPACI in the region. During the boycott years, Ngakane was often the sole South African representative at the world's, and Africa's, major film festivals. His influence in these events has been significant as seen in the establishment of FEPACI and his membership of numerous film juries.
Ngakane's aim now is to persuade South African film makers to form a truly national association for affiliation to FEPACI and thus be part of the African Cinema.
* * *
I have known Mr Ngakane since 1982 when he approached me to facilitate a South African committee under the auspices of the International Film and Television Council (IFTC, Paris), which was affiliated to UNESCO. This Committee, comprised of both exiled South African film-makers (including Ngakane) and a number of internal representatives, was based in London and operated for most of the 1980s.
Ngakane was also instrumental in establishing the South African Cinema Archive at the British Film Institute (London) in the mid-1980s as an IFTC Project. Funds raised through the Institute facilitated the deposit from South Africa of both published and unpublished materials and documents on South African cinema. This Archive was intended to preserve information under attack from the SA Security police, and has provided an excellent resource to scholars of South African cinema who have been working from the UK. Following 1990, the remaining funds from this project were donated to CCMS which has established a SA Cinema Archives, which is now being used by scholars from all over the world.
Ngakane's unfailing support of my own work on South African cinema and his constant lobbying for international recognition of my efforts in South Africa resulted in my being nominated and accepted into a variety of international academic cinema forums and festivals well before the cultural boycott had ended. Amongst these have been my active incorporation into the International Film and TV Council (UNESCO, Paris), the International Association for Film and TV Schools (UNESCO, Brussels), cooperation with the British Film Institute, and invitations to myself to organise South African titles screened and debated at a number of prestigious French film and video festivals (1983, 1986). Ngakane's influence on CCMS is thus fairly marked when these connections are taken into account.
Mr Ngakane's influence on the two feature films, Cry the Beloved Country (1950) and A Dry White Season (1989), was crucial to the artistic integrity of the original books on which they were based. On A Dry White Season, in particular, his tireless technical and artistic intervention, and his refusal to be intimidated by the American producers, prevented this film from becoming a travesty of Hollywood expediency and trivialisation. His good council prevailed, and he was able to ensure that the film script largely retained the integrity of the original Brink novel.
Since his return to South Africa in 1994, Ngakane has made his mark as a entrepreneur working with Ster-Kinekor to bring cinemas to the townships (see enclosed newspaper articles). He is also an advisor to the Newtown Film School which in 1994 attained candidate membership of CILECT (International Association of Film and TV Schools).
In conclusion, Mr Ngakane is internationally renowned, has contributed fundamentally to the development of South African and African cinema, and is currently playing a facilitating role in bringing all sectors of the previously fragmented film industry together.
Please do not hesitate to contact me should any further information on Ngakane be required.
Director and Professor
Name: Lionel Ngakane
Born: Pretoria 17/7/1920
St. Peters Secondary School
Fort Hare University College
University of the Witwatersrand
1948/50 Worked as a journalist on the creation of two African magazines:
Zonk - from the first issue till January 1950
Drum - from dummy for six issues.
1950 Assistant to Zoltan Korda, Producer/Director of the film CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY, based on the Alan Paton novel.Also played the character of ABSALOM in the film. Was responsible choosing locations and casting local actors.Completed the film in London.
1951/80 Actor in Britain - cinema, TV, theatre, radio. Some of the films he acted as both co-lead and supporting roles were: Safari, Across the Bridge, Nor the Moon by Night (on which he was also assistant director.)
1957/62 Wrote and Directed documentary film on South Africa, Vukani/Awake The film was widely distributed non-theatrically.
1962 Wrote and Directed short feature film Jemima and Johnny. 1st Prize at Venice Festival;
1st Prize at Rimini Festival, Bronze Award at Festival of Carthage. Theatrically distributed in Britain and USA. Non-theatrically distributed in Britain, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.Television sales to Channel Four TV in Britain and 2nd Channel in Germany. Film still being shown at various festivals internationally.
1977 Director of Golden Boabab entertainment company in Senegal. Head of Film Department for three years.
1982 Wrote and Directed Once Upon a Time, a documentary film shot in Liberia and Ivory Coast.
1985 Wrote and Directed documentary film Nelson Mandela Screened on Channel Four Television (UK). Screened by URTNA to African television stations. Also distributed non-theatrically in Britain, USA and Europe.
1987/88 Wrote with Director, Euzhan Palcy, the script of film A Dry White Season, adapted from Andre Brink's book. Also Technical Advisor on the film.
1988 Wrote and Directed one of the films of the series People Matter, on Human Rights.
1988 Wrote and Produced a documentary film Canariv'88 for the government of the River State, Nigeria.
1990 Wrote and Directed a long documentary Nigeria in Transition for the Federal Government of Nigeria.
1995 Consultant on the TV Series on African Governance, Hopes on the Horison. Ford Foundation.
Other offices held:
Member of International Film Festival Juries:
Carthage Film Festival - Tunis
Leipzig Film Festival (twice)
Commonwealth Film Festival - Nicosia
Edinburgh Film Festival
FESPACO Film Festival, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
M-NET Film Awards. Currently Chairman (1994-5) of the selection committee. Jury member 1993
International Documentary Festival - Amsterdam. 1994
Organised the first African Film Festival at the National Film Theatre, London.
Wrote and directed radio plays for Radio Deutshe Welle, Germany.
Directed two plays at the I.C.A. Theatre, and the Bush Theatre, London
Written articles for newspapers and magazines on African cinema. Including a booklet for BBC.
Participated in several colloquiums and symposiums on African and Third World Cinema in Africa and overseas.
Conceived the idea of an organisation of African Film Makers. The Pan-African Federation of Film Makers (FEPACI) was formed in 1967. I am a Founder member of the Bureau and Regional Secretary for Southern.Created Southern Africa Film Corporation Ltd. (SAFC). Its aims are to provide cinema in the black townships and service them with good entertaining and uplifting films as a distribution company.
Member of the ANC since 1946. Chairman of ANC Youth League - Orlando Branch. Worked with Mandela, Sisulu and Tambo. One of three members of the ANC who opened the ANC office in London -1961.
A Director of the Newtown Film and Video School, Johannesburg.
Director of Film Resource Unit (FRU) which distributes films and videos and operates a Mobile Video programme.
Member of Board of Directors of the South Africa Cinema Foundation.
Member of the Advisory Committee on Cinema for AFRICA '95 in Britain.
Officier de l'Ordre National, conferred by the President of Burkino Faso. Awarded in recognition of Ngakane's film making and his efforts at promoting cinema in Africa.
FEPACI Recognition on the occasion of its 25th year.
(With Awed, IM and Adam, HM): First Mogadishu Pan-African Film Symposium. Pan African Cinema ... Which Way Ahead? Mogadishu: Mogpafis Management Committee, 1983.
Opposite editorial page articles in The Star and Daily News
Ngakane has been profiled in numerous national and international film magazines.