Heights of satire

The Satyr of Springbok Heights, which will be screened at the Out in Africa festival, is a bizarre mockumentary filmed in one of Cape Town’s sexy and iconic buildings, Holyrood, in Queen Victoria Street. This offbeat hour-long movie stars people such as journalist Lin Sampson, who plays herself, and eccentrics including a well-known Cape Town bergie. The Mail & Guardian spoke to architect Robert Silke, co-writer and director of The Satyr of Springbok Heights.

Briefly, who is Robert Silke?
I’m an architect—and I’m particularly interested in the private lives of ordinary buildings. I’m into small hotel rooms and bachelor studios in particular, where people seem to play out large portions of their lives (and bodily functions) all in the same space.

I was born on Republic Day 1978 and have only ever lived in apartments. My childhood kicked off on the 17th floor of Twin Towers in Sea Point and played itself out in a duplex apartment in Newlands. I now live in a flat in the city [bowl of] Cape Town.

How did an architect get involved in filmmaking?
Filmmaking and architecture are both applied arts, consume similarly obscene amounts of resources and both require the careful and predictive manipulation of an audience’s narrative and aesthetic experience of a fixed form. Nevertheless, architecture doesn’t really have the power to conjure strong emotional responses as film does, and I really wanted that.

In 2007 Colin Braye, our associate producer, introduced me to Aaron Scheiner, a 22-year-old reclusive Howard-Hughes type who flies his own fleet of aeroplanes and owns his own personal film production studio. Aaron happens to be a technological savant and a gifted cinematographer, and was looking to have some fun with a film project. Aaron, Colin and I co-produced. I wrote and directed.

What is the film about?
The Satyr of Springbok Heights purports to be a documentary about poor whites living on the fringes of the new South Africa and the exquisite old apartment building that holds them in its thrall.

A satyr is an ancient Greek mythological creature, half-human, half-goat, with an immense appetite for sex. Greek drama featured satyr choruses, out of which modern-day satire was born. And so the film is a comic satire about a building full of tragic people.

Are there some dark unresolved psychological forces in you that you projected on to some of these characters and the storyline?
Yes.

With which one of the characters do you identify the most?
They are all composite characters made up with good, healthy doses of me in each of them. They’re all fringe outsiders, and as such I can identify strongly with all of them. But I think I identify most with Nathan Golding, the retarded, inexplicably affluent 31-year-old living in the Springbok Heights penthouse. Like Nathan, I often feel oblivious to the rules of social interaction. I sometimes feel a bit socially retarded.

Anything else that you would like to add? Perhaps to those people who are haunted by a satyr?
Please don’t lock your doors.

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