South Africa's Ster-Kinekor has revealed that it is to roll out digital high definition (HD) film servers at five cinemas nationwide over the next few months. This is the first time in South African film history that full-length mainstream features will be screened in digital HD format.

Three cinemas in Johannesburg and two in Cape Town will be fitted with digital HD projection equipment. In a recent first for SA, the company screened the African astrological feature documentary Cosmic Africa on HD at one of their screens.

An audience survey revealed that 89% knew they were watching the movie digitally and preferred it to conventional 35mm.

This roll out follows the pioneering of digital film using standard definition servers at a number of niche film festivals by the Spectrum Visual Networks Company who will be responsible for the changeover.

Spectrum Visual Networks MD, Manny Teixeira says, "Probably the most important benefit of HD for the South African film industry, is that the cost of releasing digitally mastered and distributed movies is far less than is the case with 35mm. The cost of printing and distributing is prohibitive to both producers and distributors. A single feature-length print can cost tens of thousands of rands."

The release cost for movies requiring prints varies from $2,700 (R18,000) to around $7,500 (R50,000) excluding advertising spend for a one-print release and can escalate to over $150,000 (R1m) for a wide release or more commercial 50-print movie.

The move is sure to benefit the Dv8 initiative, where 8 features will be produced over three years on HD. The first two - Teddy Mattera's Max - King Of Tears, a black comedy about a professional mourner and Ian Gabriel's Forgiveness starring Arnold Vosloo, as an ex-apartheid cop seeking redemption will in all likelihood be the first local features to benefit.

Early word on the latter has been extremely positive, and it is believed that producers Jeremy Nathan and Joel Phiri are angling for a slot in competition at Cannes.