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Sir Horace Ové – artistic, visionary British filmmaker who has Indian heritage and nearly made a film about bandit queen Phoolan Devi…

Sir Horace Ové – artistic, visionary British filmmaker who has Indian heritage and nearly made a film about bandit queen Phoolan Devi…

The recent 2022 Honours List recognised a powerful and seminal filmmaker whose own part Indian background and upbringing in multi-cultural Trinidad made him aware of other ethnic communities in Britain…

By Sailesh Ram and Mamie Colfox

PIONEERING filmmaker Horace Ové was knighted for his services to the media after being awarded a CBE in 2007 for his services to the film industry.

As the 85 year old – originally from Trinidad and with Indian heritage – suggested, it was quite the turnaround for the writer-director who was vilified and subjected to abuse for the films he made recording the black experience in Britain during the 1970s and 1980s.

Sir Horace, in a statement to the Press Association, said: “I’m greatly honoured to receive this recognition for my work.

“Chronicling the lives, battles, art and culture of the African and Caribbean diaspora in Britain and around the world has been a lifelong journey and passion.

“This award is testament to how far we have come and in many respects how far we still have to go. One Love.”

Sir Horace Ové in 1995

His daughter Indra Ové, an actor, who is currently working abroad, told “This is such an honour.”

Sir Horace has been credited by The Guinness World Records as the first black British filmmaker to direct a feature length film, ‘Pressure’ in 1976. The film narrated the early life of teenager Tony who is inspired by the Black Power Movement of the 1970s.

He also made a film, ‘The Garland’ about an Indian family settling in Britain and was always acutely aware of the struggles and difficulties experienced by ethnic communities in the UK.

A self-taught filmmaker, his first was commissioned and about acupuncture, and it went onto act as something of a calling card, after he tried to make a Luis Buñuel inspired short that was never completed. He completed a documentary in 1969 about the great novelist James Baldwin after meeting him in London.

Sir Horace’s interests also took him to India and he made a film about the dabawallahs of Bombay (Mumbai). These were, at the time in the 1980s, mostly farmers who delivered lunches to office workers during their downtime in the harvest cycle. Sir Horace has spoken about his time researching the story and surreptitiously meeting Phoolan Devi when he was in India and looking to make a film about the bandit leader who enjoyed worldwide notoriety.

He said he was always fascinated by people who were caught in traps and looking for a way out – and he always saw himself as an artist filmmaker, trying to make art, not just films for a living.

The BFI and its magazine title, Sight and Sound, digitally published an interview last September (please see link below) with Sir Horace conducted in 1995, and his artist son Zak has also written about his father’s career.

Sir Horace’s film, ‘Pressure’, was held back from release by the BFI, but later received critical acclaim and in 2018, and he was presented with a Special Jury Prize at the British Independent Film Awards. The judges described his work as “significant” and said that he was one the “proudest voices of a generation”.

Sir Horace is also known for his 1970 documentary ‘Reggae’ which explores the genre and he was inspired to make it after DJ Tony Blackburn – who when introducing a track didn’t understand the cultural heritage or depth behind the music.

A Hole In Babylon’ was his next film and it was was made in 1979. It is about a botched robbery in Knightsbridge, London – which was popularly known as the 1975 Spaghetti House Siege. The four men involved wanted money to create a school for black children, where black history and culture would be taught and the leader conceived the plot after being turned down by possible funders.

Shot in the style of a docu-drama, Sir Horace showed the motivations and personal histories of four black men involved in what was an amateurish and botched plot to rob a restaurant.

The film was essentially an intelligent, re-writing of the mainstream media narrative that simply presented the men as violent criminals or hoodlums. There was predictable media outrage and the BBC didn’t screen it initially.

Onyekachi Wambu writing in BFI screenonline, the portal of Britain’s TV and film history, commented: “Ové sensitively captures the way the unfolding siege provides the opportunity for a different kind of glory as black liberators.”

One of Sir Horace’s most popular films was ‘Playing Away’ (1986) which starred the late legendary Norman Beaton and was a cricket drama which reversed common racial stereotypes, as a team from a fictional club in Suffolk takes on a West Indian heritage side from Brixton. Written by novelist Caryl Phillips, the BFI, which produced a more recent DVD, saw sales shoot up following Sir Horace’s interview being re-published in September 2021.

Sir Horace was born in Trinidad and first attended art school in Britain in 1960 and spent time in Rome on a film before returning to the UK and establishing himself as a filmmaker.

Picture credits: Ové family


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Written by Asian Culture Vulture