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South African Film History

South Africa First in Film

The first presentation of film in South Africa was made in May 9, 1896 at the Empire Theatre of Varieties in Johannesburg. An R. W. Paul camera and film program was used.
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The first film produced in South Africa were scenes taken from the front of a tram in Johannesburg in 1896.
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The first feature film over 1 hour was
De Voortrekkers in 1916.
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The first 'talkie' in was Mocdertjie in 1931.
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Early projection devices were shown around the Johannesburg goldfields as early as 1896. The first cinema newsreels ever released were filmed at the front during the Boer War (1899-1902). The first narrative film was The Kimberley Diamond Robbery, made in 1910.

Between 1916 and 1922, I. W. Schlesinger produced 43 feature films, themes were primarily Boer and Britons unified hsowing civilization against barbaric hordes (mostly from British authors like H Rider Haggard). An astonishing accomplishment was the procural of 25 000 Zulu warrior extras.

Production declined after 1922 for, despite high technical standards, there was very little interest in British and US markets. De Voortrekkers, however, inspired The Covered Wagon (1923) in the USA. There have been remakes of some films such as Zulu (1966) and Zulu dawn (1980) of the British-Zulu Wars of 1879.

A 30 year lull was broken in the early 1950s by Jamie Uys,South Africa's most commercially-successful director (Gods Must be Crazy) when he succeeded in attracting Afrikaner-dominated capital to establish independent production. He persuaded the government to provide a subsidy for the making of local films, which continued until the late 1980s. It was this subsidy which resulted in films supportive of the military such as Kaptein Caprivi (1972), made while the South African Police supported the white Rhodesian regime.

Most films were made from outside directors in films like Zoltan Korda's Cry the Beloved Country (1951 - based on Alan Paton's novel) and Lionel Rogosin's Come Back Africa (1959), about the brutality of apartheid. Euzhan Palcy's A Dry White Season (1989) and Richard Attenbourgh's Cry Freedom (1987) were the first films to bring apartheid to mass cinema audiences. Exiled Lionel Ngakane's Jemina and Johnny (1966) and Vukani Awake (1964). Ngakane was an actor on Korda's version of Cry the Beloved Country and as technical consultant on A Dry White Season.

The first black-made film was Gibsen Kente's How Long (must we suffer ...? (1976). It was shot in the Eastern Cape during the Soweto uprising. How Long was briefly shown in the Transkei. Through abuse, the government subsidys ended in the 1980s.

Black director, Simon Sabela, employed by Heyns Films, however, injected a degree of cultural authenticity into the films he made, such as U-Deliwe (1975) but that ended in the 1980s.

The years following 1986 saw the sustained development of a domestic anti-apartheid cinema financed by capital looking for tax breaks and international markets. Canon Films responded with explorer titles like King Solomon's Mines (1985). But Durban producer, Anant Singh, of Indian extraction, working with film graduate Darrell Roodt, developed from the low budget Place of Weeping (1986) and Jobman (1989) to blockbusters like Sarafina (1993) and the Cry the Beloved Country (1995) remake. Singh's activities extend to the USA, his most technically sophisticated film being The Mangler (1994), based on a Stephen King novel.

A `black' South African cinema has yet to occur. Many films have been made by progressive white directors about `black' stories, and multiracial teams have made films like Mapantsula (1988). For the first time South Africa now has a sustained and sophisticated examination of the full spectrum of South African history - Boer prisoners held by the British (Arende - The Earth - 1994), liberal opposition to apartheid in the 1960s (Cry the Beloved Country), the psychological impact of the wars waged against neighbors (The Stick 1987). The popular struggle of the 1980s was imaged in Mapantsula. Films critical of white racial attitudes and experiences were made by Manie van Rensburg (Taxi to Soweto - 1992). Historical origins and effects of apartheid are found in Elaine Procter's Friends (1994), Katinka Heyns's Feila's Child (1988), and Van Rensburg's The Fourth Reich (1990). Films like Andrew Worsdale's Shot Down (1990) and Fourth Reich (1990) reveal the inner turmoil of white South Africans of various races on apartheid.

 



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