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About: Award: Lionel Ngakane

Thu, 24 Apr 97 09:29:00 PDT

Originally from: <>
Originally dated: Thu, 24 Apr 97 09:29:00 PDT

From: Prof Keyan Tomaselli
Subject: Award: Lionel Ngakane
Date: Thursday, 24 April, 1997 12:32PM

Conferment of the Degree of Doctor of Literature,
Honoris Causa, upon LIONEL NGAKANE.

Faculty of Humanities Graduation Ceremony,
University of Natal
Durban 22 April 1997

The University Orator, Professor Mervyn McMurtry, stated:

Mr Chancellor

1997 is only the second year that South Africa has been permitted
to enter FESPACO, the biennial Pan-African film festival. Of the
197 African entries, 25 were selected for judging at FESPACO '97,
held in March. Three were from South Africa and one, Chikin
Biz'niz, was awarded the prize for best fiction film in the TV
and Video category. The credibility and recognition this award
affords the South African film industry is due, in large measure,
to the pioneering work of Lionel Ngakane.

In 1950 the film version of Alan Paton's novel, Cry, the Beloved
Country, made an exile of a promising Johannesburg journalist.
Zoitan Korda, the producer and director, had refused to grant
interviews to journalists while auditioning actors for the film.
Lionel Ngakane, on an assignment for Zonk magazine, gained access
to Korda by joining the queue of aspirant actors. When asked to
audition, Ngakane confessed to the ruse. Korda, instead of
rejecting the journalist, had him prepare for a screen test.
Within months he had been engaged as Korda's assistant, was given
the responsibility of choosing locations and, ironically, casting
local actors. When Sidney Poitier's role was altered from that
of Absolom to that of the priest, Korda cast Ngakane as Absolom.
Filming was not made easier by the fact that Poitier and Canada
Lee were not permitted to stay in whites-only hotels and had to
be transported, each day after filming, to a farm near Alberton.
Ngakane, as Korda's assistant, was allowed to reside in a caravan
at the rear of his hotel. Ngakane accompanied Korda to England
to work on post-production, and was encouraged by Korda to remain
there, in exile, and pursue his career, rather than return to a
country in which it was not possible for a black to work in any
capacity in the film industry. His contribution to Cry, the
Beloved Country has been recognized as crucial to the artistic
integrity of the original novel. There is, then, a sense of
symmetry and satisfaction in the fact that Ngakane's return to
this country in 1994 coincided with the making of another film of
the same novel. He had been offered a role in the new version,
but as Secretary to the Pan-African Federation of Film Makers
Ngakane declined, as he was committed to preparations for that
year's festival in Tunis.

In the intervening four decades, Ngakane established a career in
cinema, television, theatre and radio, as actor, writer, director
and producer, principally in Britain, but also in Senegal,
Liberia, the Ivory Coast and Nigeria. One of his major successes
as writer and director was the short feature film Jermina and
Johnny. Filmed in 1962, it won first prize at the Venice and
Rimini Festivals, and a bronze award at the Festival of Carthage.
Distributed in Britain, the United States of America, Germany,
Italy, and Switzerland, it is still screened at festivals

Most significantly, it was Lionel Ngakane who conceived of an
organization of film-makers in Africa, in 1967 the Pan-African
Federation of Film Makers was formed, with Ngakane as Regional
Secretary for Southern Africa. The principle objectives of the
Federation were to promote independent film productions, to
organize the distribution of African films on this continent, as
well as internationally, to persuade governments of the
significance of film as a means of social, economic and cultural
education, and to create film schools for Anglophone and
Francophone students.

In his capacity as Regional Secretary, Ngakane fostered co-
operation among the various film-makers' associations. He was
the sole Southern African representative at Africa's, and the
world's, major film festivals during the 1970s and 1980s. As a
member of film festival juries in Tunis, Leipzig, Edinburgh, the
Commonwealth Film Festival and those hosted by the PanAfrican
Federation, his promotion of African cinema was vitally
important. Ngakane was instrumental in organizing the first
African Film Festival at the National Film Theatre in London.
Furthermore, he wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, and
participated in international symposiums on African and Third
World Cinema.

Although not resident in South Africa, Ngakane's association and
influence extended to the political sphere. Between 1957 and
1962 he wrote and directed Vukani I Awake, a documentary on this
country. As a member of the African National Congress, he was
one of three members who opened an ANC office in London in 1961.
In 1985 he produced the documentary film Nelson Mandela, which
was screened in Britain before being seen on African television
stations, and in Europe and the United States of America.
Between 1987 and 1988 he was, owing to his technical expertise
and his knowledge of the South African context, engaged as the
technical advisor and one of the adapters for the film version of
Andre Brink's novel A Dry White Season.

In 1994 Ngakane returned to South Africa to create a chain of
independent cinemas - located in the townships and owned and run
by community businessmen - to promote and screen nationally
produced films. Even in exile, he was consulted by the former
Department of Home Affairs for his views on a national policy on
cinema; in 1996 he was a member of the new government's Reference
Group to prepare the White Paper on Film Policy. Ngakane
believes that cinema should be regarded as an industry, that
there should be a national film corporation supported by both
industry and the state, and that a national film school be
established. Since his return, he has also been active as a
director of and advisor to the Newtown Film and Video School
(which attained membership of the International Association of
Film and TV Schools in 1994), serves on the board of the Film
Resources Unit, has been Chairman of the M-Net Film Awards
selection committee, been elected to the board of directors of
the South African Cinema Foundation, and a member of the Advisory
Committee on Cinema for Africa'95 in Britain. (He also serves on
the Media Outreach Group of the Centre for Cultural and Media
Studies, University of Natal.)

It has been remarked that in South Africa, the government can
only facilitate the development of the arts; it is individuals
who do the creating. Lionel Ngakane has succeeded in both

Mr Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you, for the
degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa, for his
exceptional contribution to Southern African and African cinema
in his roles as performer, writer, director, producer,
facilitator and cultural organizer, Lionel Ngakane.


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