Leon Schauder

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(b. Port Elizabeth, 14/01/1919 – d. Croydon, England, 25/01/1947). Director, cameraman. Leon Schauder was the son of Adolph Schauder, who arrived from Austria during the South African War and became a respected civic and Jewish community leader. As ex-Mayor and Chairman of the Housing Committee, Adolph was regarded as the father of economic housing in Port Elizabeth and he appears in Jamie Uys's The Urgent Queue (1958). He died in March 1968. (See a memorial lecture by David Scher – Cape Town, 26 August 2001.)

Leon Schauder attended Grey High School in Port Elizabeth and while there filmed the school’s rugby tour to Natal. After matriculating, he first went to Johannesburg hoping to find work as a photographer, but then returned to Port Elizabeth to make In Them Our Hopes (1937) a privately sponsored film on the Jewish Habonim youth movement that was shown to considerable acclaim to local audiences. On the strength of that and armed with various testimonials and recommendations, he departed for London. He arrived during a slump in the film industry, but eventually found work, first as an assistant director on Old Iron (Tom Walls/1938) and them as an assistant editor on The Citadel (King Vidor/1938).

He then persuaded H. Bruce Woolfe of Gaumont-British Instructional to give him a contract to make a number of shorts in South Africa. Twelve O.P., Karoo and Nonquassi were shot during 1938-39 and he then returned to England to edit them for the series Focus on the Empire. They received good reviews, first in Great Britain and later in South Africa. He worked as an editor on GBI’s On Guard in the Air (1940) and, after the Ministry of Information had bought the international rights to Nonquassi, directed Shipbuilders (1940) and From the Seven Seas (1941) for them, both through GBI.

Back in South Africa he joined the Union Unity Truth Service and, together with Henry Cornelius, embarked on a lengthy journey through Southern and Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, the Belgian Congo and French Equatorial Africa, gathering material for what was to become Trekgees (1942). Again for UUTS, he travelled to Egypt and Libya as a war correspondent, filming such events as the capture of the Derna aerodrome and the work of the W.A.A.S. Some of this material founds its way into African Mirror and he was subsequently credited as co-photographer (and possibly director) on Oproep! (1943) for African Film Productions.

By that time he and Cornelius were planning We of Velddrift (1943), a portrait of a fishing village in the Western Cape which received high praise from local reviewers. For Alexander Films he made Purely Personal (1943) and Saturday Night (1944) and then, for the Alpha Film Studios, Words in Darkness (1944), written by Uys Krige and dialogue direction by Nan Munro. In between he travelled to Sudan and Eritrea for the British Ministry of Information. In Kenya he made Father and Son (1945) for the Crown Film Unit and during the first half of 1945 he found himself in Italy, where he made The Man Who Did Not Think (1945) for Religious Films.

Back in England and working for GBI, he was one of the photographers for Fishing Grounds of the World (1946) and was on his way back to South Africa when, on 25 January 1947, the chartered Dakota aircraft in which he was travelling crashed at Croydon Airport. Schauder had an abiding vision of the potential of the film medium and campaigned tirelessly to make this a reality. He wrote a number of passionate articles for various publications and hoped to contribute to placing the South African film industry on a sound financial footing. His papers are kept in the Manuscripts & Archives Collection at UCT Libraries. (FO)


Dictionary of South African biography

Leon Schauder papers at the University of Cape Town

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