|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
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.