Moral power in film making

A humanitarian at heart, I am naturally drawn to art forms that explore and capture themes of our human spirit surviving even the worst atrocities. Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom was shown by Welcome Cinema at Amnesty International’s UK place of business on Tuesday 11 October. It was a launch event for Welcome Cinema that celebrates food, film and friendship – a space where refugees and other humanitarians come to mingle. I was there, invited by the British Red Cross for whom I volunteer weekly as a refugee grants writer.

For a first event, it was an impressive mix of world food flavours, a brilliant movie, and a riveting guest panel with screenwriter William Nicholson who particularly stole my interest. A wise and wonderful screenwriter, whose many films I have seen without realising they were his. Sometimes you have to see someone in person to to grasp their grain, and understand how much their craft has made an impression.

Nicholson has worked with outstanding directors (Richard Attenborough, Ridley Scott, Justin Chadwick et al), on movies starring actors Cate Blanchett, Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger, Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson, Jodie Foster, Idris Elba, to name a few. Films he’s written screenplays for include Les Misérables, Shadowlands, Gladiator, Nell. Love them all.

On Tuesday we were there to discuss Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom starring Idris Elba, directed by Justin Chadwick. Executive Producer David M Thompson was also on the panel with Nicholson. Together they unravelled the complex making of such an epic movie.

Captivating. What struck me though was Nicholson’s take on the making of films featuring a hero with “moral power”. So many of today’s movies are about “action heroes” who use violence to save the day, the world, the Universe. Mandela is portrayed latterly in the movie as a hero using moral authority in his politics to ‘save the day’. He negotiated his way to the top, calling on his people to abandon any appetite for revenge. He did so without going to war. A historically unique outcome for repressed peoples overthrowing their oppressors.

Also another stand out point, for me, made by Nicholson – was as a writer not to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of  material available to draw on. Making choices on how to write the screenplay had to be about the film, how to best tell this story, without feeling the pressure of historic or political responsibility to showcase every chapter of Mandela’s ‘long walk’.

An entirely wonderful and riveting evening. Thank you.


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 © Amanda Yensa Manor 2016



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