Ramadan Suleman awarded "Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres" from France
Pictured (l-r) Jean Bourdin, Director of Alliance Fracaise in Johannesburg, Ramadan Suleman, Ambassador Elisabeth Barbier and Frederic Chambon, Regional Head of Media, Film and Music.
On 13 November 2014 Ambassador Barbier awarded South African film director Ramadan Suleman "Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres".
The Order of Arts and Letters is a French decoration of honour established in 1957 and given by the French ministry of Culture. The award is given to recognise significant contributions to the arts, literature, or the propagation of these fields, in France and abroad.
Speech by Madame Elisabeth Barbier, Ambassador of France
Réception en l’honneur de Ramadan Suleman
Remise des insignes de Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres Jeudi 13 novembre à 18h30 Cher Ramadan Suleman,
Vous êtes une figure du cinéma sud-africain, un réalisateur reconnu à l’étranger, un ami de la France. Et c’est au nom de cette amitié partagée que mes premiers mots pour vous sont en Français, ici, ce soir.
Ramadan Suleman, a leading figure in South African cinema, an internationally acclaimed film maker, a true friend of our country, France. All this and, at the same time and above all, Ramadan Suleman, you are a man of character, conviction, talent and friendship...
A man of character and conviction, first of all. There is a word in
English that describes you perfectly: “uncompromising”... or sans concession, en français. Dear Ramadan, those who know you or who have approached you in the past, know that you are never at a loss for words, words that often bother and criticize when you speak your mind, in your films and in everyday life.
During an interview one day, you said something that shows your vision of the filmmaking business, and the sometimes severe look you take at South African cinema today: “There is this false perception from South African directors who assume that making the dumbest uncreative crime movie is a
key to Hollywood recognition. It’s sadly unfortunate”.
There are better ways to make friends... But, according to your own standards, real cinema must seek its own language and defines an identity; real cinema must tackle disturbing subjects, provokes emotion as well as reflection. And this is where the man of character meets the man of conviction, that man who, at the beginning of the 1980s, fought against apartheid, by being one of the militants of alternative theatre, and one of the founders of Dhlomo Theatre, the first black theatre in South
It was definitely about conviction – and an upsetting subject – when you shot, in 1996, your first film after the end of apartheid, Fools, one of your major works, adapted from the collection of short stories authored by Black Consciousness intellectual and academic Njabulo Ndebele.
A generational conflict, the difficulty of being politically engaged, the usual history of hatred of the other which sometimes becomes self-hatred. When the movie came out in 1997, you said: “South Africa is dominated by hatred.
In Fools, I wanted to say that we can exteriorize this hatred, that we can restore tolerance by working on ourselves. That seems to me to be the duty of the filmmaker, and of artists in general”.
In Zwelidumile, the 2009 documentary we are going to watch tonight, you deal again with difficult subjects which bring people to reflect. The documentary is a portrait of Dumile Zwelidumile, a brilliant although unknown exiled and accursed painter, who died alone and poor a few days before coming back to South Africa, his motherland. His life story echoes your own journey as an exile, and as an artist. “Artists are often misunderstood. I find myself in Dumile”, you said in this regard.
There is still much character and conviction today when, as the Vice-Chairman of the South African Screen Federation, SASFED, you defend the interests of your profession and your peers. And when, as a demanding producer, a sharer of knowledge and deliverer of talent, you spend hours,
nights and weeks with young film directors to help them find their path, and give them a voice in short film collections.
It’s a case of talent at the service of tomorrow’s talents, of transmission after recognition. Indeed, character and conviction are testimonies of talent and yours, dear Ramadan, has certainly been recognised, here in South Africa and, undoubtedly more so, overseas.
This makes of you one of the most recognised and award-winning South African filmmakers outside your country.
In 1997, Fools won the Silver Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival, one of the most prestigious European film festivals. It also received an award, in 1999, at the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, the Fespaco. Zulu Love Letter, your second feature film which was released in 2004, was selected in major international festivals, such as Venice and Toronto. It also won awards at the Fespaco and at the International Festival of Carthage, the oldest African film festival.
Whether through Ouagadougou or Carthage, you have a long friendship with African Francophone cinema. But it was in France – your home for over ten years during the 1980s and the 1990s – that you experienced African cinema and those behind it for the first time. As part of this experience, you
assisted Malian filmmaker Souleymane Cissé with his masterpiece film
Yeelen, in 1987.
Ramadan Suleman, a man of friendship. Friendship with France in particular, as well as love, since it was in France that you met and married Marie Chantal, the mother of your two children, who is here tonight.
Your friendship with France goes back to the middle of the 1980s. It began with a workshop organised in Johannesburg by French filmmakers association Ateliers Varan, supported by the Embassy of France. It was a time when you switched from theatre to cinema, when you held a camera for the first time. It was a Super 8, back then. The Embassy of France then decided to offer you a bursary to attend more workshops with the same association, in France this time, where you experienced Cinema Direct, inspired by Jean Rouch.
Although you passed the competitive exams of the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies in Paris, IDHEC, your age was against you, and you ended up studying cinema in London for three years. This did not prevent you from coming back to France where you settled until the end of the 1990s. You then went back to live in South Africa in 1998, after shooting
Dear Ramadan, today you live in your country of birth, but you remain French at heart, as well as a French national through your wife. You express your friendship for France and your francophilia by sitting on the Board of the Alliance Française of Johannesburg, the very Alliance where you attended your first French classes before leaving for Paris in the 1980s; the very Alliance where we are gathered today to pay tribute to you and to honour you, you, a friend of France, the talented filmmaker, the man of conviction.