A Good Home, Film and TV Awards

When Things Come Full Circle

I left part of my heart in South Africa.

How could I not? One of the defining times of my life and career came in the early 1990’s when my CBC boss, Les Lawrence, asked me to lead a project. It was to help South African radio and TV journalists prepare for their post-apartheid role as journalists in a newly democratic country. 

Sylvia Vollenhoven was one of those senior S. African journalists.

Sylvia and Madiba

Brilliant, tough-minded and gifted, Sylvia blazed quite a trail before and since the Canadian workshops. She worked as a television host-interviewer and executive producer at the South African Broadcasting Corporation,  then established her own production company, VIA-Vision in Africa.

Tim Knight was born in England, raised in S. Africa, but became an Emmy-winning producer, then executive producer and lead trainer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

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Blog Photo - Tim and S. African journalists

Tim broke his self-imposed exile in Canada to lead several of the CBC’s S. African workshops. Through this initiative, he met Sylvia.

“Tim was one of the first TV Trainers I encountered as we prepared to ‘hijack’ the SABC and turn it into a public broadcaster,” Sylvia says.

Two years ago, Tim decided to return to S. Africa permanently and practice his skills as a journalist and trainer there. I was both glad for Tim and devastated. Tim, over the years, had been my own trainer, mentor, book editor and friend. As if recognizing my heartbreak, Tim spent his last week in Canada at my family’s home.

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~~

Life sometimes takes wondrous turns.

Back in  S. Africa, Tim started work with the production company of his former trainee, Sylvia Vollenhoven. There, he became a producer, writer, trainer  — and conscience.

“Please take good care of Tim,” I’d asked Sylvia when Tim first returned to S. Africa. But anyone who has worked with Tim knows he can be infuriating at times, as he pushes you unrelentingly to find the heart of the story. It was no different for Sylvia and her team.

“Some days we were tempted to walk away from his rigorous questioning and unflinching commitment to the demands of the story. But it is extremely inspiring to work with Tim, especially because he brings an outside perspective to the unfolding South African story… a narrative that has become almost part of his DNA by now. We are very fortunate that he has made South Africa his home.”

Blog on Sylvia  Tim 2016

Last week, Sylvia contacted me with great news: A VIA film has been nominated for one of S. Africa’s highest honours in film and television. The film, Emo Adams – Tall, Dark and Afrikaans received two nominations and Sylvia, Director and Executive producer, credits Tim’s contributions.

Blog on Tim and Silvia Emo Adams_3  Photo by Retha Ferguson

The story is about an outstanding S. African performer, Emo Adams.

The experience was special for Sylvia – her son, Ryan Lee Seddon, a cinematographer, and partner Basil Appollis and Tim were all part of the team.

Blog on Tim and Silvia Emo Onstage Spotlight_01672.jpeg

“Tim helped us move from a good concept, through a challenging process (punishing deadlines & modest budgets) to a potentially award winning story. 

“The credits list him as Script Editor. But as usual he played the role of Mentor, Devil’s Advocate and Story Coach.

“I think it is so amazing that things have come full circle. This is the first time that Tim and I have worked together.”

There are many ways of coming home.

Bravo to everyone involved with this production and my best wishes.

 

 

 

 

A Good Home, Communication, Paintings, Partnership, South Africa

Days Off in South Africa – Part 2

The closer we got to our destination, the more worried I became.

A paved road took us to a small, whitewashed stone house similar to others in this mountain village.

It was modestly furnished.

I spotted something I hadn’t seen since my childhood in a mountainous part of Jamaica: rubber hot water bottles. They helped keep us warm on cold nights.

Smiling in recognition, I held one against my chest.

“Once a mountain girl, always a mountain girl,” I told Marie.

We laughed for the first time since we’d left Johannesburg.

~~

The housekeeper, a kindly black woman, greeted us warmly.

So did the white owner-chef of the local cafe, where we had lunch.

We chatted with her as we ate homemade bread and squash soup.

I could have hugged these local women  for their warm welcomes.

But I was still on edge.

~~

I jumped awake at a sudden sound that night.

The hot water bottles, packed around me for warmth, went flying.

Marie murmured something and I murmured something back.

I stayed awake, tensely listening.

A car drove by.

A dog barked.

Crickets chirped.

Much later, I fell asleep.

~~

Sunday came and the highlight of our trip:  visiting our friend’s farm.

He greeted us warmly. We set off up the hill.

A wafer-thin layer of ice coated parts of the hillside, but Marie and I smiled in anticipation as we climbed.

I stared, mesmerized, at a family of mere-cats, their heads popping from earth-holes in tandem. They’d disappear, then pop up again, movements perfectly synchronized.

“There’s a leopard living over there,” our host said, pointing to some trees on a nearby hill. He was remarkably casual about it.

He had given us sticks to beat the bushes, in case of snakes.

We were near the mountain top.

~~

Ah.

There they were. 

On smooth, upright stone walls, the paintings.

Protected by the cliff overhead.

Human beings had created them thousands of years before.

Pictures, some of men with spears. And wild animals, some which looked fierce.

Turning my head this way and that, I stared in awe.

~~

Walking downhill, I glanced in the direction of the leopard’s hill and wondered which was more frightening.  Wild animals?  Or angry humans?

~~

We had shared everything, but not this.

Working closely together, Marie and I had resolved challenging situations in the training room. I always marveled at this woman’s skill.

We finally talked.

It hit me then: the problem was never mine alone. If I was at risk, then Marie — my loyal partner — was also at risk. But our partnership was strong and we would do our best to protect each other from harm. Sharing made us stronger.

Ah.

~~

Our host had asked us to not reveal the paintings’ location. That was a secret worth keeping.

We returned to Johannesburg safely, chatting and laughing companionably.

We continued to work closely with remarkable individuals at the SABC. We, and the rest of our Canadian team, felt greatly privileged to do so, at a crucial time in the country’s history.

~~

Marie Wilson was later appointed to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC recently filed its report on the treatment of Aboriginal children in Canada’s residential schools and the impacts on their families and communities. (Click on “What has been the Purpose and Role of the TRC” and other videos to see her.)

A Good Home, Friendship, South Africa

South Africa Comes to Visit

South Africa. One of my most favourite countries in the world.

Having worked there, repeatedly, I’d planned to return as a tourist one day.

It hasn’t happened.

But every so often, South Africa comes to me.

~~

Late April, 2015.

I come across a small book in our home library.

“South Africa Stories” is the simple title.

Memories fill my mind.

Blog Photo - South Africa Stories 001

~~

Early 1991.

My CBC boss, Les Lawrence, heeds the call from South African Bishop Tutu and Canadian Archbishop Ted Scott –– eminent persons in the fight against apartheid — and agrees to an important project: to help South African broadcast journalists prepare for the end of apartheid. He and I are the project leaders.

Eleven journalists are in the first group, carefully selected by our partner, the Southern Africa Education Trust Fund. They’re here in Toronto at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to strengthen their skills in radio and television journalism.

Of various races, some are exiles.

~~

Their intelligence, educational achievements and resourcefulness impress us. Their stories alternately shock and inspire us.

Blog Photo - South Africa Stories The Women

~~

We cry when they leave.

But mostly, we rejoice, knowing they are going back stronger than they’d arrived, knowing they have also made us stronger. We have bound some of their written stories into a simple book. Something for them to take home, along with their new-found skills.

They write thank-you notes in my copy. I rediscover it in April 2015.

South Africa Stories.

Blog Photo - South Africa Stories Note from Libby

~~

Late April, 2015

Sylvia Vollenhoven, one of Nelson Mandela’s favourite journalists, arrives at our old farmhouse north of Toronto with our mutual friend Dale. It’s been years since Sylvia was here and we hug her warmly. A woman of stunning achievement and deep commitment to South Africa,  journalism and freedom, she’s in Toronto for the Hot Docs festival.

Blog Photo - Three Wimmen

She tells us about her current project, The Keeper of the Kumm, which will be produced as a play, a book and a documentary. We listen in fascinated silence. She’s one of the most eloquent people we know and Hamlin, Dale and I devour her words like manna from heaven.

~~

And we laugh.

Sylvia is very witty, but her mistake appears to be an honest one.

Blog Photo - Sylvia and Willows

“What are these things called again?” she asks in that beautiful accent of hers. She points to stalks of pussy willows in a container. “Willy’s Pussies, right?”

Blog Photo - Pussy willows

Willy’s pussies. Oh, dear. 

I gasp for air between bouts of loud laughter.

~~

We tell Sylvia we hope she will come back a year from now – with her book and her documentary. She tells us she hopes we can come to South Africa to see the play. We eagerly say Yes.

Blog Photo - Sylvia and Keeper of the Kum 002

Of course, it’s most unlikely that I will be able to travel that far. But as I sit on the verandah with three dear friends who love South Africa, it is such a warm thought.

I  remember.

And imagine.

And am happy.

Blog Photo - Sylvia here at lunch

 ~~

Dedicated to Sylvia and the journalists of South Africa… especially “the first eleven”.

 Photos by Hamlin Grange

A Good Home, Book Editor, Book lovers, Books, Canadians, CBC Television, Creative Writing, Life Challenges, Mentoring Writers, South Africa, South African Journalism Training, Tim KNight, Writers

A Terrific Writer-Editor

Tim Knight is a brilliant writer.  

Blog Photo - Tim Knight CU

He’s an Emmy-winning documentary-maker.

Ladeda
On location: “Inside Noah’s Ark”

And writing coach.

Luckily for me, he’s also an excellent editor.  

I know this because he taught me to write for television and edited many of my stories.

And because when I came up with the crazy idea of producing a book  — at the worst time in my life — Tim calmly agreed to be my editor.

It was not a job for the faint of heart.

I first met Tim just before my graduation from journalism school. Tim Knight, head of TV Journalism Training for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was already a legend. He interviewed me for the best job a TV Journalism graduate could land: an apprenticeship with the CBC’s prestigious trainee reporter program.

Blog Photo - Tim when I first met him

Each year, CBC TV picked the top 6 students from journalism schools across Canada. That year, I became one of the six. But my journalism professor wasn’t pleased. I was a Canadian citizen, but one who’d come to Canada from Jamaica. He argued that the job should go to a real Canadian. 

Tim overrode his objections and I got the job.

Tim’s been looking out for me ever since.  Not that I gave him much choice.

I sought Tim’s advice before every career move. Producer-director. Executive producer. And when Tim decided to leave the CBC to write his first book,  he recommended that I replace him as head of CBC TV’s journalism training.  His word carried so much weight that the job was offered and I took it.

Blog Photo - Tim's book

We worked together to train South African journalists at the end of apartheid.  For us Canadians, this was a remarkably moving experience.

Blog Photo - Tim and S. African journalists

Blog Photo - Tim and Madiba

Years later, I had a car accident.

In ‘Type A’ style, I thought I could return to work soon.

Not so.

Something happened to Tim when he realized the full extent of my physical, intellectual and emotional states post-accident. His cool manner slipped: he was worried about me.

Tim became one of the few people who knew just how bad things were. He’d watched me struggle — to write, speak, think.

He must have been surprised when, years later, I said I was producing a book and wanted him to edit it. Not that he showed it.

“Send me the manuscript,” he said.

I did.

“This book could be great,” he replied. “Not just good, but great.  It needs more work.”

More work! I was already exhausted.  How much more work?

Some chapters were excellent, Tim said. Some would need substantial work. But he would help me.

It was not easy for anyone to help me back then. Blog Photo - Tim, wearing hat Sometimes, Tim had to stop our conversations abruptly. I’d start stuttering badly again, lose track of what was being said to me, but refuse to admit I was in trouble.  

His voice would become very firm.  “Cynthia, we’ll talk again later.” Tim never babied me, which was important. No matter how unwell I was, I always sensed when people were trying to baby me, and I didn’t like it.

Mostly, Tim said, I needed to make the music consistent throughout the book.

The music?

The music.  The storytelling.  The rhythm, the pace, the cadence of the writing. And so we went to work, to create the music in every chapter. agoodhome_cynthiareyes

**

Every good writer needs a good editor. Considering the shape I was in, I especially needed a good editor.

Tim not only edited my first book, he also edited my second.

What a blessing to work with such an excellent editor, trainer and communicator.

Thank you, Tim.