Shunned by Cinema Nouveau, Durban has far from accepted defeat on the alternative film front, reports Alex Sudheim.
Picture a dark, brooding lair in a city’s industrial periphery where you can lounge upon battered couches from matinée to midnight movie, watching classic cult cinema at a pittance while drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and gobbling free popcorn.
Ster-Kinekor it most certainly ain’t. If you think it’s too good to be true, think again: this is Indies Rock Café, the most interesting addition to Durban’s cultural topography in many a humid moon.
Bereft of the cappuccino-scented realms of Cinema Nouveau in Johannesburg and Cape Town, Durban has long suffered the absence of a dedicated independent cinema venue – a situation which has now been mercifully remedied.
Indies offers a jaw-slacking selection of underground cinema seven days a week, eight shows a day, and on Sunday evenings provides a platform for live underground music, comedy, theatre, performance art or whatever loopy margin of society craves expression. A modest restaurant and coffee bar in the foyer provide respite between films where the cognoscenti debate the antediluvian aspects of Eisenstein or blast away on fiendish computer games.
As for the visual fare, prepare for a crash-course in the bizarre, the outrageous, the uncanny, the hideous and the breathtakingly beautiful in a world of cinema unfamiliar to mainstream audiences.
Experience the synapse-snapping splendour of deranged Japanese masterpiece Tetsuo; enter the world of twisted comic genius Robert Crumb; blink in astonishment at the passionate trash of Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space; endure Scorcese’s martyr epic Last Temptation of Christ; marvel at the stop-frame miracle of The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb; taste the madness of manga or see all those cult music classics such as Spinal Tap, The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle and Sonic Outlaws.
As Indies mastermind Rob de Mezieres says: “I found it hard to believe there are actually people out there who have not sat in a darkened theatre and experienced the collective thrill of alternative films like Crumb, Bad Boy Bubby or Delicatessen.”
De Mezieres is a dedicated indie film-maker in his own right, having recently produced and directed the darkly humorous mockumentary Shooting Bokkie. Utilising the self-reflexive film-within-a-film device, Bokkie illustrates the doomed efforts of a film crew to shoot a documentary on a juvenile assassin on the Cape Flats in the same kind of savage, gritty realism-noir traded on so heavily by cult hits Man Bites Dog and The Blair Witch Project.
Not content with only making films, De Mezieres is also committed to showing them, and Shooting Bokkie is a regular feature at Indies. “Sometimes I sit behind the bar and watch audience reactions to Bill Hicks or Naked Lunch and, judging by the expressions of awe and exasperation, it’s certain that Durban audiences are starved for this kind of cinematic experience,” he says.
Another project breathing life into the stale movie scene in Durban is Cinema Sublime, a self-motivated community venture which secures screenings of art-house films at the Berea Cinecentre every Sunday evening.
Similarly frustrated by the lack of alternative film venues in this city, a group of local cinephiles got their act together and founded this initiative after petitions to the major companies fell on deaf ears. Since then, Cinema Sublime’s screenings of films such as The Man With Rain In His Shoes and With or Without You have been completely sold out, with the 2000 programme kicking off in January with critically acclaimed fare such as The Dream Life of Angels, Buena Vista Social Club, Hideous Kinky and Xiu Xiu.
In Annie Hall, Woody Allen may well have been talking about Durban when he declines a joint at a party, saying “No thanks. When I smoke that stuff I get too mellow. I get so mellow I start to rot.” Yet, as these two seminal cinematic ventures prove, the city has far from accepted defeat on the alternative film front and enters the new millennium in fine independent style.