Trinidad-born film-maker, photographer, writer and artist Horace Ové passed away at the age of 86 on Saturday 16 September.
Sir Horace Shango Ové CBE was born on 3 December in Belmont, Trinidad, and came to the UK in 1960 to study painting, photography and interior design. He spent some time in Italy and began his long involvement with film in 1963 when he worked as an extra on Cleopatra, which starred Elizabeth Taylor.
Three years later he made his first film, The Art of the Needle, a short for the Acupuncture Association. Several more films and television documentaries followed, but it was Pressure (1976) that made Ové’s name in the cinematic world. Pressure was Britain’s first full-length drama feature film by a Black director and tells the story of a teenager who joins the Black Power movement.
His documentaries included Reggae (shot at a concert at Wembley in 1970), King Carnival (1973, described as the best documentary film ever made about Trinidad Carnival) and Dream to Change the World (his 2003 film on the life and work of John La Rose, the founder of New Beacon Books).
In addition to film-making, Ové was a renowned photographer and had several exhibitions of his work, including ‘Farewell to the Flesh’, in Manchester in 1987, showcasing his images of Trinidad Carnival. Notably, he recorded the development of Notting Hill Carnival from its origins in the 1960s through to the turbulent 1970s and 80s.
Some of the leading actors, writers, thinkers and political activists have found themselves in front of Ové’s lens – James Baldwin, Margaret Busby, Stokeley Carmichael, Jimmy Cliff, Allen Ginsberg, Prof Stuart Hall, Ram John Holder, Darcus Howe, C L R James, Linton Kwesi Johnson, John La Rose, John Lennon, Sir Trevor MacDonald, Chris Ofili, Yoko Ono, Sam Selvon, Derek Walcott, Rudolph Walker, Michael X… among many others.
Horace Ové was awarded the Scarlet Ibis medal and recognised as a National Icon by the Government of Trinidad & Tobago; in 1987 the British Film Institute named him Best Director for Independent Film and Television for his contribution to British culture; while for his contributions to the film industry in the UK he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). Most recently, in the 2022 New Year Honours, Horace Ové was knighted for services to media.
Horace’s son, Zak, has also made a profound impression on the art world with his photography and sculptures, many of which reference Carnival in Trinidad and Notting Hill. Zak Ové’s 2015 Moko Jumbie figures became the first artworks by a Caribbean artist to be included in the British Museum’s permanent collection.
The British Film Institute (BFI), on London’s Southbank, has dedicated a retrospective season to Ové’s work, entitled ‘Power to the People: Horace Ové’s Radical Vision’.
On Wednesday 11 October, the BFI will premiere a restored version of Pressure prior to its UK-wide cinema release on 3 November. The Institute funded the original production of the film, although it delayed its release for two years because of concerns about the violence it portrayed.
Speaking on behalf of the Ové family, Kaz Ové said: “The restoration of Pressure was a revelation when watching it on the big screen – beautiful and vivid once again, we were seeing images and moments with a clarity probably not seen since the first screenings in 1976.”