The George Padmore Institute’s tribute to Horace Ové

September 19, 2023

We are extremely sorry to hear the news of the death of Sir Horace Ové. An award-winning pioneer in Black British filmmaking, Ové also worked extensively as a photographer. A friend and colleague of the George Padmore Institute’s co-founder John La Rose, Ové was also connected with the Caribbean Artists Movement and directed the documentary about John’s life Dream to Change the World: A Tribute to John La Rose.

Photograph of a protest (circa 1970s) by Horace Ové.

Born in Trinidad, Ové became one of the Caribbean's most prolific and innovative filmmakers. He was the first Black British director of a full-length film with Pressure in 1973 and the director of the first black independently produced documentary Reggae (1970), also the first in depth film on reggae music. In the documentary 100 Years of Cinema, the British Film Institute affirmed: ‘Horace Ové stands as a trailblazer in Black British history, offering a unique view of the Black experience in Britain’. He won various awards including the British Film Institute's prize for Best Director in 1986 and in 1992 he was awarded the Scarlet Ibis Medal by the Trinidad and Tobago government.

Ové’s love affair with cinema began in his childhood in the movie houses of Port of Spain, Trinidad. After working as a painter and photographer for several years in Rome, Italy, he moved to London to study film at the International Film School in the mid-1960s.

Films for TV include A Hole in Babylon (BBC), based on the 1975 siege of the Spaghetti House restaurant in London; The Garland (BBC); When Love Dies (Channel 4); Good at Art (BBC), written by Farrukh Dhondy; and Moving Portraits (Channel 4). His feature film Playing Away was written by Caryl Phillips, and is the comic story of a black cricket team from Brixton, London that travels to a conservative Suffolk village to play a friendly match.

Documentaries include Baldwin’s Nigger, in which the African-American author James Baldwin compared the black situation in Britain and America in the 1960s; King Carnival (BBC), a detailed look at the Trinidad festival; The Art of the Needle, the first documentary on acupuncture; Skateboard Kings (BBC), a look at the tribal aspects of different skateboarding groups at the height of the craze in California; Dabbawallahs (Channel 4), a film about the tiffin carriers of Bombay who run a complex system of delivering home cooked lunches; Who Shall We Tell? (Channel 4), stories of some of the people of Bhopal who suffered from the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in India; and Redemption Song (BBC).

Ové also directed plays including Blackblast by Lindsay Barrett, The Swamp Dwellers by Wole Soyinka and The Lion by Michael Abbensetts.

In the 1970s and 1980s, he directed several major TV series, including Empire Road (BBC) by Michael Abbensetts, The Latchkey Children and The Professionals.

The Orchid House (Channel 4), a period drama mini-series set in the Caribbean between the two World Wars, was also directed by Ové and was the first programme to be filmed entirely on location in the Caribbean. It tells the story of the decline of an old colonial family from the point of view of the family's black nanny.

In 1994, Ové directed Native Son, a docudrama on the life and work of Richard Wright, the first internationally acclaimed black American novelist.

As a photographer, Ové’s work was exhibited at The Photographer's Gallery in London and at the Cornerhouse Gallery in Manchester, which later toured throughout the USA. In 2004, a major exhibition of his work entitled Pressure toured the UK. It featured his social and political reportage work from the 1960s and 70s, such as his photographs of the Mangrove Nine protest on 9 August 1970. In 2005, another exhibition of his work was held at the National Portrait Gallery.

From the George Padmore Institute, we send our condolences to the family and friends of Sir Horace Ové, a towering force in Black British cultural life.

An invitation from Horace Ové for his exhibition  Farewell to the Flesh, housed at our archive.


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