Francis Gerard

Francis is a creative consultant, cultural heritage designer and filmmaker. He has vast experience as an internationally renowned filmmaker for the BBC, Discovery Channel and many other broadcasters. For more than 30 years he has successfully developed, produced and directed a range of stimulating and controversial primetime television documentary series and dramas all over the world.

He also has extensive exhibition and archival experience. For the past 15 years he and Totem have been developing exhibitions and educational and cultural events.

His lifelong interest is getting people to better understand their surroundings. This has been played out in the films and projects he has undertaken. His career began in the 1960s when he documented South African and British life as a photographer. This continued as he began making television documentaries such as:

  • The Bomb – an investigation into nuclear war and the people of Hiroshima.
  • The White Tribe of Africa – a BBC series on the history of the Afrikaners, which won the Royal Television Society's award for Best Documentary Series (1979).
  • The Cold War Game – a 6-part series on relations between Nato and Warsaw Pact countries.
  • The Last Governor – a 5-hour documentary series for the BBC on the handover of Hong Kong to China.

More recently Francis began to change direction, with his interests moving to China and his continuing need to help people retain their history. This played out in several projects. The first was to help establish an archive of Hong Kong’s history. By collecting and digitising film, photographs and important historical papers Francis initiated the collection and electronic repatriation of aspects of Hong Kong’s history from around the globe as a resource for future generations. The William Mong Archive is held at the Hong Kong University library.

Another cultural initiative begun by Francis during this period was to support the restoration of cultural heritage sites in China. The China Heritage Fund was established in 1995 and has recently completed the restoration of the pavilion of the Qing Emperor, Qianlong, within the Forbidden City complex in Beijing.


This experience led to Francis devising a way to explain China to the rest of the globe. The project became China: The Dragon’s Ascent, a popular educational resource formatted as an 8-hour television documentary series with accompanying books and CD-ROMs. The Dragon’s Ascent was about the links between the China of today and Chinese history and civilisation. Francis devised the project, negotiated its making with the Chinese leadership, and co-raised the US$7 million budget from donors worldwide to a charitable trust he set up for the purpose. The sale of all the materials worldwide for over US$8 million gave the two linked academic research units in Cambridge, UK, and China the funds to continue their research for years to come.

Francis returned to live in South Africa in 2001 and established Totem Media. He immediately began work on what became the Origins Centre. Francis is now based in London from where he has a roving brief to develop Totem internationally. His is still very much involved in all Totem projects and is in South Africa regularly.

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