Cedric Sundstrom
The Great Kimberly Diamond Robbery, shot in 1910, was the first feature film shot in South Africa, although newsreels were filmed during the conflict period of the Anglo Boer war as early as 1896. It was, however, the arrival of immigrant IW Schlesinger, whose desire it was to show and distribute movies, that was the catalyst for the building of theatres and the true birth of the South African film industry as we know it today.

In Focus spoke to local director, producer and writer Cedric Sundstrom, of local production company Moviworld, who has been captivated by the movie industry and for the past nine years has dedicated himself to documenting the fascinating history of South African cinema on film so that this amazing segment of local history may be captured for generations to come.

Sundstrom has a host of credits to his name, including Meadowlands (2009) - in development, Cold Stone Jug (2003), The Suitcase Killers (2002) (TV) docu-drama and The Foster Gang as well as a plethora of commercials.

"It's essential to record this important element of South African history for posterity," he explains. "All developed countries have made it a priority and I firmly believe that South Africa is no exception - we have such a wide and diverse filmatic history and we are, after all, one of the oldest film industries in the world.

"It is an incredibly difficult project. There have been so many acquisitions and mergers in the film industry that archives of material have moved around, become lost or destroyed. We have a National Film Archive, but in my opinion it is under funded, and the number of people nationally who are making an effort to preserve material is pitifully small. Likewise, there is difficulty in obtaining the rights to use the material when it has been located - you have to pay, and often the rates are unrealistic."

Currently the project is in production, but is desperately seeking funding. The National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) have made available some funds, but despite appeals to other sectors, nothing has been forthcoming thus far.

"2010 is the hundredth year," points out Sundstrom, "and it's pretty essential that the project is completed by then. There are a lot of people still to be interviewed and mountains of material to go through so it's a daunting prospect, but I am convinced that we will overcome the obstacles. We have to as this story has to be told!"

The history of South African cinema is fascinating - but lengthy - so In Focus intends to cover this history over the next two issues. Keep a look out for the next 'episode' - there is little doubt that you will learn something about our fascinating history that you did not know. For instance, are you aware that the first perforated film stock was developed by Emile Reynaud in 1881? We'll test your knowledge in our next episode!