Obituary for Mamoun Hassan |  Movie

Obituary for Mamoun Hassan | Movie

Producer Mamoun Hassan, who has died aged 84, was a major figure in British cinema in the 1970s and 1980s, whose remarkable career, while not entirely satisfying his artistic gifts, was unusual in enabling the careers of so many others. filmmakers. , and spawned numerous bravely non-commercial projects. What was remarkable was how commercial some of them turned out to be.

Although he was a first-rate director and screenwriter, it was in his roles as First Production Manager of the British Film Institute (1971-74) and CEO of the National Film Finance Corporation (NFFC, 1979-84) that Mamoun came into his own. influential, being instrumental in the making of such classic British films as Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl, Franco Rosso’s Babylon (both 1980) and the animated adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s When the Wind Blows, directed by Jimmy Murakami (1986).

Perhaps the most important figure to come to prominence was Bill Douglas, the Scottish filmmaker responsible for the exceptional My Childhood trilogy (1972-78) and Comrades (1986), a major political film about the Tolpuddle martyrs of the 1830s.

In 1976, Mamoun had endorsed and supported Terence Davies’ first production, the short film Children, and Horace Ové’s Pressure, the first serious feature film to reflect on the black experience in Britain. It was also Mamoun who financed Andrew Mollo and me to make Winstanley (1975).

Babylon was the first film he supported in the NFFC, after being rejected everywhere. This continued a pattern of breaking the rules and risking their jobs by committing more money than they were supposed to. When the film was released in the US in 2019, after nearly 30 years, it garnered rave reviews.

Dee Hepburn and John Gordon Sinclair in Bill Forsyth's 1982 film Gregory's Girl, which Mamoun Hassan helped bring to the screen.
Dee Hepburn and John Gordon Sinclair in Bill Forsyth’s 1982 film Gregory’s Girl, which Mamoun Hassan helped bring to the screen. Photography: Sportsphoto/Allstar

Crucially, also at the NFFC, Mamoun changed the advisory council of the National Film Development Fund to include directors and producers as well as writers, radically increasing the number of screenplays produced and leading to films like A Room with a View and Dance with a Stranger (both 1985) in the making.

Mamoun was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the son of Hamid Hassan, a physician, and Fatma (née Sadat). His family came to London in 1949 and settled in Hampstead, north London, where Mamoun attended King Alfred’s school.

In 1958, he began studying electrical engineering at University College London. I first met him during this time, in the early ’60s, when he was working as an editor for a documentary company and he came to work for me as an assistant. Mamoun eventually made the decision to work in film instead of engineering, and dropped out of college before graduating.

When I was asked to make a short documentary for the BFI about Britain’s last tram, 9, Dalmuir West (1962), Mamoun was indispensable as a second cameraman.

A still from Babylon, 1980, by Franco Rosso, which Mamoun Hassan endorsed in the NFFC after being rejected elsewhere.
A still from Babylon, 1980, by Franco Rosso, which Mamoun Hassan endorsed in the NFFC after being rejected elsewhere. Photography: Alamy

The films that Mamoun made at the beginning of his career, documentaries and short films, showed his talent. The Meeting (1964) won Best Short Film at the 1965 Oberhausen International Film Festival. A feature film she was to direct for producer Stanley Donen lost studio sponsors just before shooting; soon after came the offer from BFI, in 1971.

Douglas’s script for Children, then called Jamie, was one of the first Mamoun read. It was his idea to make it the first of a trilogy, to ensure Douglas made the rest of his films, and after he won the Silver Lion at Venice in 1972, its success helped the BFI move into feature film production.

In 1974, Mamoun left to head the film section of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), based in Lebanon. As soon as he landed, civil war broke out and he found himself avoiding gunfire while directing the film Some of the Palestinians (1976). He later won an Outstanding Film Award at the London Film Festival.

Returning to the UK in 1976, Mamoun was invited to form and head the directing department of the National Film and Television School. The following year he became a member of the Motion Picture Council, advising the government, as well as being a founding member of the Association of Independent Producers, criticizing the government.

A still from Winstanley, 1975;  Mamoun Hassan financed Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo to make the film.
A still from Winstanley, 1975; Mamoun Hassan financed Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo to make the film. Photograph: BFI/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

As managing director of the NFFC, Mamoun, unlike his illustrious predecessor Sir John Terry, never applied for an executive producer credit on the feature films he supported and nurtured. Many years later, he confessed that it was probably a bad idea.

Despite his renewed creativity under Mamoun, the NFFC was abolished in 1985, a year after his departure. That year he produced Alan Bleasdale’s No Surrender, directed by his friend and collaborator Peter Smith. Mamoun had endorsed Smith’s 1974 feature A Private Enterprise, set in Britain’s growing Asian community, while at the BFI.

In 1988, Mamoun devised the Movie Masterclass series for Channel 4, based on his work with NFTS students. Satyajit Ray said of his master class on his film The World of Apu that “it was also a lesson for me”.

In 1997 Mamoun was named dean of publishing at the International Film and TV School (EICTV) in Cuba. He then went on to co-produce, co-write and co-edit the award-winning Chilean film Machuca (2004), directed by Andrés Wood.

With Wood, Mamoun also wrote the screenplay for La Buena Vida (The Good Life, 2008), which won a number of awards, including a Spanish Goya.

Mamoun was one of the smartest men I have ever met. His opinions were often surprising and always stimulating.

In 1966 he married Moya Gillespie, a publishing editor. She survives him, as do her two sons, Sherief and Anies, two granddaughters, Sabrina and Jasmine, and a brother, Talaat.

Mamoun Hassan, film producer, screenwriter, and director, born December 12, 1937; died July 29, 2022

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