C. Francis Coley

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C. Francis Coley (b. Gibraltar, 26/07/1897 - d. 17/12/1968) was a producer and director.


The first record for Cyril Francis Coley goes back to 1913, when he was registered as a temporary clerk in the post office. Not for long, because by 1915 he was a Lieutenant in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and early in 1925 he was promoted to the rank of Captain, this time in the Royal Corps of Signals in the Territorial Army. In March 1926 he was on a ship that sailed for Nigeria, where he may have been in the Colonial Service and the following he came out to Africa again as a political officer, this time accompanied by his wife Eileen.

Captain C. Francis Coley came out to South Africa in 1935. According to Thelma Gutsche, he was an English film technician who originally was the South African agent for Fox Movietone News/British Movietone News. He was employed by African Film Productions to direct a film for the Johannesburg Safety-First Association, but early in 1938 he launched Union Film Productions (Union Films) in Bezuidenhout Valley, Johannesburg with the idea of processing the Movietone programmes locally instead of relying on the importation of positive prints ready for screening on the Twentieth Century-Fox circuit. By December 1940 this concept had been developed further with the first screening of a Unifilm News programme in Durban as a rival to AFP's African Mirror. During this time he also contributed news items to British Movietone.

The company soon began to compete with AFP in other ways, notably in the production of documentaries such as Mr. Tea and Mr. Skokiaan for the Tea Market Expansion Bureau. The outbreak of World War II resulted in a number of recruiting and propaganda films made for various government agencies. These included titles like Delivery on Due Date / Stiptelike Aflewering (194-), Fall In (1942), Heritage / Ons Erfenis (1942) and Planning For Peace / Die Pad Verder (1945), many of them directed by Arthur L. Bennett, who became Coley's in-house director. During the war years the company also struck sound prints from negatives supplied by the British War Office and the Ministry of Information for screening in local cinemas.

Together with Louis Knobel, Bennett was the director of Die Wildsboudjie (1946) and, on his own, of Die Skerpioen (1946), two early Afrikaans-language features, while Coley himself was responsible for Sarie Marais (1949) - not to be confused with the earlier film of that title directed by Joseph Albrecht (1931). By that time Union Film Productions had become Unifilms as the result of an agreement of cooperation between Coley and William Boxer's Alexander Films. Unifilms only made three feature films, though it continued to produce many documentaries, including Cape Vineyards (Nicholaas Grobler/1954) for K.W.V. At one stage there were plans to establish a film studio in Stellenbosch (land had already been identified by the municipality), but these seem to have fallen by the wayside. According to filmmaker Esdon Frost, who started working with Coley in 1959, by that time the Unifilms studio had moved to the Cape Province and operated from Coley's house in Constantia.

Together with individuals such as Thelma Gutsche, C.P. de Leeuw Beyers and Harold C. Weaver, Coley was a member of an Inter-departmental Committee appointed to consider the Reports of the Committee on State Publicity, the Film Committee and other Related Matters, which came out in 1945. In 1966 a Coley collection was deposited at the National Film Board of South Africa. Coley had married Eileen M. Bennett in 1925 and her brother, Arthur L. Bennett, became Coley’s partner in Unifilms. (FO)


Sight & Sound, Spring 1946 ("The first feature in Afrikaans" by Capt. Coley)

Gutsche, Thelma - The history and social significance of motion pictures in South Africa 1895-1940

Le Roux, André I. & Fourie, Lilla – Filmverlede: geskiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse speelfilm

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