British Filmmaker Mark Norfolk’s film at RapidLion Festival captures the achievements of renaissance man Louis Mahoney

The multi-award winning visiting screen and stage writer had an interview with CITYLIFE/ARTS at a Melville restaurant this week.

By Edward Tsumele, CITY:LIFE/ARTS Editor

Visiting British filmmaker Mark Norfolk whose short documentary film “Louis Mahoney – Portrait of a Renaissance Man” was well received at the RapidLion –The South African International Film Festival. The festival which was started by Johannesburg creative Eric Miyeni seven years ago, is currently on at the UJ Arts Centre in Johannesburg, closing on Saturday, March 11, 2023.

Louis Mahoney – Portrait of a Renaissance Man traces the achievements of one of the world’s best known actors Louis Mahoney. Mahoney today stands credited for his activism that changed the lives of particularly black actors and women within the British entertainment establishment. He was also noted for galvanising the British actors’ fraternity   to rally behind the cultural boycott campaign targeted at apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.

 In an interview with CITYLIFE/ARTS held at a Melville eatery on Thursday, Norfolk said he was happy with the reception that his film received at its screening at the festival.

CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor Edward Tsumele and British screen and stage writer Mark Norfolk

“A platform such as RapidLion is important in that it is the only film festival which gives a platform to films from the Brics (Brazil, India, China, South Africa) countries and the African diaspora. These are countries that have not been well catered for by the Western Film festivals. These are emerging countries that are now becoming a force to reckon with globally.” The award winning screen writer, playwright and creative writing teacher told CITYLIFE/ARTS during the breakfast meeting.

The filmmaker started working on the film in 2020, but the disruption of Covid-19, making it difficult to connect with people and to move freely delayed the film till November last year.

“What happened is that when Louis Mahoney died in 2020, I was asked to deliver an eulogy at his funeral. I started working on the film from there, but Covid-19 disrupted the process. However I eventually completed the film, which features prominent personalities that knew Louis Mahoney and the role that he played in elevating the lives of particularly black actors, women and the disabled within the British acting community. Mahoney worked hard and rose in stature within the British culture, rising to the influential position of British Actors’ Equity Vice President, the first black actor to ever have risen to that position in this once powerful union. It is from that position that he championed for the rights of black actors, women and the disabled to be paid the same rates as their white counterparts,” the filmmaker explained.

Although his efforts were noble, Mahoney, according to Norfolk, however rubbed some powerful people the wrong way.

Mark Norfolk

“For example he forced some executives of the Equity to resign for continuing to work with apartheid South Africa despite the existence of the cultural boycott and the fact that the rules of the Equity did not allow such. Some powerful people were not happy. He paid the price for fighting for people’s rights. However by the time that he died, he had acted in more than 100 films and stage productions.”

Mahoney, who was born in the Gambia, was also the first black person to be admitted at film school in the UK in the 1950s, Norfolk revealed. The filmmaker’s efforts in telling the story of this influential figure within the British film industry has not gone unnoticed. There are now efforts being made by his family and other influential figures to do a full feature film about Mahoney.

Among the people that are featured and tell the remarkable story of Mahoney in Norfolk’s film include influential British politician Lord Paul Boateng, who traces his ancestry to Ghana and is noted for his role in galvanising British society against apartheid South Africa.

The late British actor and activist Louis Mahoney

Norfolk himself is a prominent figure within the British film and theatre industry, having written award winning films that include Shadow Gene (2014), (Best Director, Best Film, Best Actress –Filmfest Kosovo,  Best Actress, Best Editing-Peloponnesian International Film Festival and Ham &The Piper 2013, (Best Feature Film-Carmarthen  Bay International  Film Festival,  Best Film-Black International Film Festival, 7Art Best Film, Best Actor Peloponnesian  International Film Festival, Best Actor-Eko International Film Festival, Silver Chris Award-Ohio International Film Festival) among other film accolades.

Norfolk is also very active in academic spaces, teaching creative writing as well as assisting in professionalising the Cape Verde  theatre industry where he assisted in establishing a theatre company and is currently writing a play to be staged there.

“I am also working towards establishing a course that I will teach at Oxford University in 2024, that investigates the relationship between analogue and digital technology in filmmaking,” he revealed.

The filmmaker will fly back to the UK on Saturday. But before that he had something good to say about South African society.

“South Africa globally occupies a potentially powerful position due to its unique history where the country is emerging from. There is an opportunity here for South Africans to use that complex social history to exert its influence globally. Sometimes I wonder If South Africans themselves realise how they can use that complexity to exert its influence globally. That influence was illustrated well when Nelson Mandela came out of jail to become the President of a democratic South Africa. The world’s focus was on South Africa. Therefore there is so much potential that South Africans have to influence the globe due to that unique set of circumstances and the complex social history where it comes from,” he told CITYLIFE/ARTS as we concluded the interview at XaiXai Restaurant in Melville.

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