Arthur Howes

Documentary film-maker in Sudan

For Arthur Howes, films were his life - and Howes's own work bristles with vitality, a bounding love for the people who are its subjects and for the medium itself. Howes's trilogy of films about the Sudanese civil war (1990-2002) is documentary film-making at its best - journalistically accurate, visually exciting and humanly engaging. There is nothing difficult or worthy about Howes's work, although there is sadness, its main subject being what Howes called "the betrayal of the African dream".

Arthur Joseph Christopher Howes, film-maker: born Gibraltar 15 July 1950; (one son with Amy Hardie); died London 29 November 2004.

For Arthur Howes, films were his life - and Howes's own work bristles with vitality, a bounding love for the people who are its subjects and for the medium itself. Howes's trilogy of films about the Sudanese civil war (1990-2002) is documentary film-making at its best - journalistically accurate, visually exciting and humanly engaging. There is nothing difficult or worthy about Howes's work, although there is sadness, its main subject being what Howes called "the betrayal of the African dream".

Arthur Howes was born in Gibraltar in 1950, and his Mediterranean childhood - half-English, half-Spanish, with Africa on the horizon - informed all his life and work. He emigrated to London as a young man, in search of art, cinema, rock'n'roll - a favourite teenage memory concerned a sighting at Gibraltar airport of Anita Pallenberg and Brian Jones. He trained first as a teacher, then as a film-maker at the Polytechnic of Central London. And he settled in Brixton, south London, where he would live, in a ramshackle house stuffed with records, books, paintings, a Steenbeck and a great many friends, for the rest of his life.

Howes first visited Sudan in 1980, when he travelled to the Nuba mountains in the south of the country to work as a teacher. He worked among the people made famous by Leni Riefenstahl's photographs of body-painting and ceremonial wrestling; Howes's own pictures were published in The Face in 1983. But the Nuba's way of life was about to be torn apart as Sudan's ruling National Islamic Front moved to impose Sharia law on the largely non-Muslim southerners, igniting civil war between the government and the local Sudanese People's Liberation Army.

In 1988 Howes returned to Sudan as a graduate of the National Film and Television School. The film he made there, Kafi's Story (with Amy Hardie, 1990), tells of a young Nuba man's adventures as he plans to buy a dress for his second (i.e. additional) wife; portents of the coming cataclysm are seen through Kafi's eyes and recounted in Kafi's own words. The film won major awards at film festivals and was broadcast by Channel 4.

At the end of Kafi's Story, Howes promises to return soon to show the film to its protagonists; but this never happened. Howes was repeatedly refused entry to Sudan until 1998, when he sneaked in under cover of filming government celebrations. He filmed young children forcibly converted to Islam and recruited to the government army. He filmed whole villages of starving women. He met with Nuba exiles living in hiding around Khartoum; but he never found Kafi. Thus the awful unfolding of Nuba Conversations (2000), Howes's second Sudan film.

The third was the beautiful and greatly acclaimed Benjamin and his Brother (2002). This film tells the story of two young Dinka brothers, stranded in a Kenyan refugee camp, after walking hundreds of miles from Sudan. William is offered a chance to resettle in America, Benjamin is not - but which is the bigger loser? The film shows William breaking boxes in a Texas supermarket for the minimum wage, with no prospect of anything better. "I really feel ashamed," Benjamin says from the refugee camp. "We don't work as slaves; it is something unlawful to the Dinka culture."

Between his major documentaries, Arthur Howes taught at a variety of institutions, including Essex University and the London College of Printing. He was an inspirational teacher who promulgated an aesthetically demanding canon: the cinéma vérité of Jean Rouch and Frederick Wiseman; Godard's sublime Le Mépris; D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back.

He also worked on films with Towering Inferno, the maximalist performance group, and promos for others, including the legendary German group Faust. He was not an institutions man and had no interest in greasy poles; as a result, he found it difficult to fund his work. Digital technology, with its compact, cheap equipment, offered a way around this problem: instead of scrabbling for pennies from a diminishing pot, Howes just got himself an iMac and a camera and filmed whatever he liked.

Superb cameraman, writer and editor though he was, Arthur Howes had an even greater talent - a genius for friendship. He was generous, funny, loyal and genuinely fascinated by other people. There was a wonderful simplicity in the way he looked at the world that made it easy for him to get along with all sorts, and for all sorts to warm to him back. He charmed his way on to planes and across checkpoints, out of prison and into grand hotels. People faxed and e-mailed and phoned and visited from every corner of the world. To walk with Howes down Electric Avenue was to promenade with the king of Brixton. Hands reached out in greeting from all directions. Bouncers stood back to let him enter free of charge.

Arthur Howes discovered he had cancer in January 2003, shortly after returning from a trip to Brazil. Being the sort of man he was, he underwent chemotherapy while experimenting with complementary medicines and concurrently planning a second Brazilian trip, this time to make a film. The result, Bacchanalias Bahianas 1-5, was unfinished at his death. It is a slow, dark meditation on human and natural beauty as the weakening film-maker - unable, sometimes, to support the weight of his camera - delights in the sun, sea, music and strong young bodies around him.

"A bystander's view from a fixed point - the world moving around [him]," Howes wrote in explication. "One is no longer moving with the world, but has become through contemplation and observation a fixed point round which the world continues."

Jenny Turner



Suggested Topics
News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?