Killarney Film Studios

Killarney Film Studios was established in Johannesburg in 1915 as "the first motion picture studio in Africa".[1]


The studio was founded and funded in the Johannesburg suburb of Killarney by US citizen Isidore W. Schlesinger (d. 1949).

Two years earlier Schlesinger had bought up Australian Rufus Naylor's Africa's Amalgamated Theatres (est. 1911) and Edgar Hyman's Empire Theatres Company (est. 1912) to form the African Theatres and Films Trusts on 10 April 1913. In this way Schlesinger obtained a monopoly over film importation and distribution throughout Southern Africa.[2][3][4]

Schlesinger set up African Film Productions (AFP), which on 5 May 1913 screened the first of its weekly newsreels, African Mirror. AFP continued to produce African Mirror, which included features on African countries such as Tanzania, and interviews with notables such as Chris Barnard for South African consumption until 1984.[5][6] Schlesinger imported Joseph Albrecht from Britain to run the African Mirror.[3]

In 1915 the Killarney Film Studios produced South Africa's first animated film, Artist's Dream. The artist was portrayed by Dennis Santry and the director was Harold Shaw. Schlesinger's wife, Mabel May, starred as the artist's dream girl.[7] Whether this production was inspired by Thomas Edison's 1900 film of the same title is unclear, as no copies remain of the South African version.[8] Five more animated short films followed, and film titles were also often animated.

African Film Productions made 43 films between 1916 and 1922.[1] The scarcity of international films during the First World War boosted the development of Schlesinger's company. As befits the political context of a newly unified state (the Union of South Africa, 1910) the earlier films aimed at the white market featured co-operation between Boer and Briton as a common theme. Once apartheid started in earnest after 1948, some films took up the theme of whites standing together against black Africans. Apart from feature films, AFP produced "documentaries" for the state, as well as industrial safety films. During the 1920s to 1940s the distribution of AFP films to the black African market was aided by missionaries such as Reverend Ray Phillips, who from about 1920 wanted to use the medium to impart (Western) morals to black Africans. Phillips showed films to mine workers (most notably, during the 1922 white miners' strike),[9] as well as to the middle class black elite who attended his Bantu Men's Social Centre (established by Phillips in Johannesburg). Most of these films came from Schlesinger's company.[9]

AFP produced "the first sound advertisement films in South Africa for Joko Tea and Pegasus products" in 1930.[1] The first films to stimulate internal tourism were produced by AFP in serial magazine form, entitled Our Land.[1]

In the 1940s a special effects department was set up at Killarney.[7] Reflecting the rise of Afrikaner nationalism, African Film Productions produced a plethora of popular light-hearted Afrikaans fare, such as Kom Saam Vanaand (Afrikaans, Come Along Tonight).[10] The first South African and Afrikaans musical, this film was produced by Pierre de Wet in 1949.[1]

The studio also printed copies of international films, such as J. Arthur Rank's The Sea Shall Not Have Them (1954).[11]

20th Century Fox bought AFP in 1959 but as a result of the world decline of the movie Cleopatra which cost the film industry around the world very dearly, the Schlesinger family took back AFP due to non-payment. In 1967 Fox produced two films in South Africa directed by Robert D. Webb with cinematography by David Millin that were remakes of Fox films. Yellow Sky was remade as The Jackals with Vincent Price and the then up and coming Robert Gunner and Pickup on South Street was remade as The Cape Town Affair with Claire Trevor and the up-and-coming James Brolin and Jacqueline Bisset. In 1968 the company made Majuba about the First Boer War.

In the 1970s the Sanlam Corporation bought AFP from the Schlesingers and later it was resold, the name was changed to South African Screen Productions and the studio was moved to Balfour Park.

Killarney Film Studios' original buildings were demolished in 1972 by John Schlesinger (Isidore W.'s son), who built Johannesburg's first mall, Killarney Mall.[1][12]

Notable staffEdit

  • General Manager:Hyman Kirstein, Benny Mechanik (1972)
  • Directors: Pierre de Wet (1940s-70s)
  • Cameras: Joseph Albrecht, African Mirror;[3] Italo Bernicchi, African Mirror, during the 1950s;[6] Vincent Cox (ASC);[11] David Millin, African Mirror (ASC) [13]
  • Film Editors: Barney Bernard Joffe (chief editor), Tommy Doig (assistant editor) Peter Grossett, Bill Asher Features Editors
  • Art director: Gordon Vorster (1950–63)[14]
  • Makeup: William "Bill" Bell

Notable FilmsEdit

See alsoEdit

Painting of Zulu with drums used originally for media purposes in the days of the existence of the African Mirror film reels and Killarney Film Studios

Items of historical value during the existence of the Killarney Film Studio's and the African Mirror: A painting done by artist Rob Evans, portraying a Zulu playing on an African drum, whilst holding a shield in one hand. It is understood that the drum portrayed in the painting is the original African drum which was used at the beginning of the African Mirror film reels. This painting was commissioned to be used for publicity purposes within the media during the last years of the African Mirror. This painting, if still in existence, is considered an item of historical value.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g South African History Timelines Archived 6 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine Film in South Africa. Retrieved online 6 January 2008.
  2. ^ a b Worsdale, Andrew. Archived 2 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine Jozi And The Movies – A history. Gauteng Film Commission. Retrieved online 6 January 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Sandon, Emma. 2007. Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Vol. 16 No. 1, Spring/Printemps. Retrieved online 6 January 2008.
  4. ^ O'Hara, John. 1986. Naylor, Rupert Theodore (Rufus) (1882 - 1939), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, Melbourne University Press, pp 668-669. Retrieved online 6 January 2008.
  5. ^ Botha, Martin P. 2006. Archived 20 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine 110 Years of South African Cinema (Part 1). Kinema: a Journal for Film and Audiovisual Media. Retrieved online 6 January 2008.
  6. ^ a b Davie, Lucille Archived 29 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine 2005. Italo Bernicchi : a life in film. City of Johannesburg website. Retrieved online 6 January 2008.
  7. ^ a b c Simmonds, Ken. Archived 8 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine Animation. South African Scriptwriters' Association. Retrieved online 6 January 2008.
  8. ^ "An artist's dream. Edison, 1900 (opens video file)". Retrieved 6 January 2008.
  9. ^ a b Peterson, Bekhisizwe, 2003. The Politics of Leisure during the Early Days of South African Cinema. In To Change Reels: Film and Film Culture in South Africa by Balseiro, Isabel and Ntongela Masilele (eds.). Wayne State University Press. Retrieved online on 6 January 2008.
  10. ^ Worsdale, Andrew. 1999. Archived 10 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine From silence to subterfuge. ZA@play. Retrieved online on 6 January 2008.
  11. ^ a b ASC Close-Up Vincent Cox, ASC. Retrieved online 6 January 2008.
  12. ^ Thomas, Harvey. 2000. Archived 25 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine The man who re-invented Killarney. Retrieved online 6 January 2008.
  13. ^ The Internet Movie Database. Biography for David Millin. Retrieved online 6 January 2008.
  14. ^ Gordon Vorster Archived 12 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine. The Man of Africa. Retrieved online 6 January 2008.
  15. ^ The Internet Movie Database. Gold. Retrieved online 6 January 2008.