The British Empire Library


Filming Emerging Africa: A pioneer cinematographer's scrapbook from the 1940s to the 1960s

by Geoffrey Mangin

Images of Yesteryear - Film-making in Central Africa

by Louis Nell


Courtesy of OSPA


Review by Henry Berriff (Central African Federation, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe 1952-68)
It is a special privilege to be asked to review these books, because, as a film maker myself, I have worked with both authors over many years. I can vouch for their authenticity.

Their approach to the subject of film production in Southern Africa is different. Their styles differ, nevertheless these books should be not only of interest to film makers, but because of an in depth study of both the urban and rural African societies for whom many of the films were made, of wider general interest.

The films notch into an early period when Kodak first brought out 16mm Kodachrome. They cover most of Southern Africa and beyond. Both writers have filmed in many countries and met many interesting people.

We are amazed at the costs of films today. With low budgets and few staff, innovation was accepted as normal, and herein lies the interest. Overcoming obstacles. Without generators or lights, and 16mm Kodachrome film with a low exposure rating - 10 ASA - how could one film the Interior of an African village hut? Simple! Remove half the thatched roof (solution by Louis Nell). His book has many black and white illustrations, including early days in Lusaka, behind the scenes of film production.

Geoffrey Mangin's book is well illustrated with access to photographs from local newspapers. He had the opportunity to film various dignitaries, including the Queen Mother. There are many production photographs. He also took part in the starting of television in Rhodesia, 1960. "It was the start of the first public television service in Africa south of the Sahara..." .

Both writers mention the important part played by the Central African Film Unit, started in 1948. "In the late 40's the British Government decided to establish a Central African Council for the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland (today Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi). This non-political body, controlled by the three territorial governors, was to look after various common matters including meteorological services, airways, etc. Then, to try to uplift the millions of widely scattered rather backward indigenous peoples, they formed the Central African Film Unit to make films of, and show them to, the illiterate rural population." (Mangin).

Progress is written about and liberally illustrated. From Cine Kodak clockwork cameras to battery-operated Arriflex blimped cameras; from sunlight and reflectors to sophisticated studios with light and sound; from 16mm silent films (Kodachrome) to 35mm Eastmancolour; from films processed in the UK with several weeks delay for screening the rushes, to a fully equipped laboratory processing 16mm and 35mm. From silent comedies with an animated African commentator speaking several African languages - Mataka Buys a Motor Car, a simpleton who buys a car guaranteed to slowly fall to pieces! - to a semi-documentary/feature film in 35mm colour Eastmancolour about two small boys, one African and the other European, who play and grow up on a tobacco farm 1927-1963. This was The See-saw Years, in which I not only did the camera work, but also the historical research, the lighting (generators and 5K and 2K lamps on location), and arranged transport, food and accommodation for some 30 actors at Lake McIlwain, some 8 miles from the capital, Salisbury (Harare). Special background music was composed for this film.

I am sure that you will take a delight in reading these books.

British Empire Book
Author
Geoffrey Mangin
Published
1998
Pages
200
Publisher
The Wordsmith
ISBN
062022021X
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon
British Empire Book
Author
Louis Nell
Published
1998
Pages
206
Publisher
Harper Collins
ISBN
1779040059
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon


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