In December 2009, In Focus began the epic of recounting the history of cinema as it rapidly approaches its 100th year. We were fortunate to interview well-known director, producer and writer Cedric Sundstrom who, being captivated by the movie industry, has for the past nine years been documenting the history of local cinema. Sundstrom's intention is to complete his project this year to coincide with the 100th anniversary.

An early Kinetoscope
In the first of a 3 part series, In Focus took a general look at the history of cinema, with a brief overview of Sundstrom's work to date in collating a massive amount of archival material. In this and next month's issue, we hope to document as much of the history as possible.

So when did it all start?. Early projection devices were shown in the Johannesburg Goldfields as early as 1896. The first cinema newsreels ever released were filmed at the front during the Boer War (1899-1902) and the first 'narrative' film was The Kimberley Diamond Robbery, made in 1910.

"There were also Kinetoscopes, an early motion picture exhibition device," says Sundstrom, "an example being in an arcade type venue in President Street". Though not a movie projector, it was designed for films to be viewed individually through the window of a cabinet housing its components. It creates the illusion of movement by conveying a strip of perforated film bearing sequential images over a light source with a high-speed shutter.

"In 1903, The Great Train Robbery, the first dramatic film, was shot in America," continues Sundstrom. "This led to South Africa's first film, The Great Kimberly Diamond Robbery shot in 1910 and made by Springbok Films.

"One of the first cinemas was the Pavilion in Cape Town. It was designed for segregated audiences with an upstairs/downstairs seating arrangement. This was probably the start of segregated cinema in this country."

Sarie Marais, the movie (from Yahoo)
Shortly after this I. W. Schlesinger, an American immigrant, wanted to show, distribute and make movies. His initial meeting was with Beermans, who made Pepsin gum, and he landed up as a salesman but in 1913, on 10 April, he founded African Theatres Trust Ltd. He also formed African Films Trust, a film importing and distributing agency and started building the Killarney Film Studios, which took two years to complete. He also founded the 'Stage and Cinema' in 1915.

"Schlesinger was prolific," says Sundstrom. "He went on to make Vortexes (or Winning Continent) in 1916, which was the fore-runner of the American epic The Covered Wagon, shot in 1923. After this came The Symbol of Sacrifice, depicting the battle between the Zulus and the British. Between 1916 and 1922, I. W. Schlesinger produced 43 feature films with the themes being primarily about Boer and Britons. An astonishing accomplishment was the procuring of 25 000 Zulu warrior extras!"

Joseph Albrecht, a cameraman and director, went on to become one of the key filmmakers in South Africa at the end of the 'silent era' of filmmaking, and produced epics such as Moedertjie, Sarie Marais and Die Bou Van 'n Nasie, with the headline 'They built a nation - a Salute to Pioneers building a natio'.

It was only three years prior to the release of Moedertjie that Warner Brothers came out with the first 'talkie', The Jazz Singer - a clear indication that the SA film industry was not far behind as Moedertjie too was played to audiences as the first sound/talking/music production shown in South African cinemas.

During the 1930's Schlesinger built picture palaces and took bioscope, as it was known, into the far flung rural areas thus exposing the magic of cinema to entertainment-hungry audiences.

In next month's issue, we'll look at the period covering World War 2 up until the late 1950's.