Play a role in the movies

In a former panelbeater’s in Jeppestown, now part of the African Museum of Design, a movie set is being built.

In the central area, the driveway into the former factory has become a road with a spaza shop and outdoor hairdresser’s on one side and the façade of some kind of nightclub, perhaps, on the other. Beyond a set of murky windows are interiors: a lounge area, a bedroom, a kitchen.

Down a corridor built into the set is an office space as well as a room with benches; at the moment it has a South African flag hanging on the wall, so it looks like the waiting room of some dim bureaucracy, but take away the flag and replace it with a large wooden cross (it’s leaning against the wall for now) and it could be a church.

This is the Home Movie Factory, a space in which anyone and every­one can go to make a movie. The project spins off from French director Michel Gondry’s 2008 film Be Kind Rewind, in which two ordinary ­dumbasses try to recreate a host of Hollywood blockbusters with the most rudimentary means, including their own lumbering performances. The idea here, though, is not to ­recreate other movies, but to construct a new one in collaboration with a bunch of strangers into whose company you have been thrown.

The Bioscope presents the Home Movie Factory in Johannesburg in partnership with The National Film and Video Foundation, as part of the France-South Africa Seasons 2012 & 2013. The Home Movie Factory has temporarily installed itself in various places across the world — Rio, New York, Rotterdam, Gorky Park in Moscow. Now it comes to Johannesburg and it will get a distinctly local flavour from the sets in the former panelbeater’s.

Down one end is a Ford Cortina, which will have a rear-projection mechanism that speeds up as the driver presses the accelerator. In the central roadway is a typical Jo’burg minibus taxi that will have similar facilities. One end of the road will get a backdrop that recreates a vista of Jo’burg city, looking down a street like Main or Fox; near that is a corner of a safari park and a shack settlement. It could hardly be anywhere but the City of Gold.

Creating for the sake of creating
This is how the project works. It’s free. Anyone can participate (although booking a slot is advised), from interested individuals to school groups, or even corporate entities seeking an innovative form of team-building exercise. It runs for two months, starting on September 1.

The process takes about three hours from your entry into the Factory to the watching of your movielet, which will probably be between 10 and 20 minutes long. This you will watch in the Bioscope itself, which now has old car seats installed instead of the usual cinema seating — it’s also in a former panelbeater’s.

Arriving at the Factory, you enter a recreated video store, an echo of Be Kind Rewind, then move into meeting rooms where your group’s ideas will be workshopped into some kind of script or plan. Each person will take a different role as the process unfolds — you may want to act, you may want to operate the camera, or you may want to be a timekeeper. You will then make use of the sets available to construct your movie and an hour or two later you will be able to watch it.

“There’s no editing,” says Bioscope co-director Russell Grant. “It’s all done in-camera. So the first stages are important, the planning of your story. You mustn’t come with anything planned. You can come with your friends, but you get partnered with strangers, which is a big part of the process — interacting with people you don’t know.

“You create your own story. You’ll be discussing it with each other, making decisions. What’s the genre? What’s the title? What props are we going to use? What does the kitchen look like? What does the bedroom look like? How can it be adapted?”

The sets have been kept as flexible as possible, say Grant and Darryl Els, the Bioscope’s other director. Earlier editions of the Home Movie Factory showed how specific sets could influence the stories told. As Gondry himself told the Rotterdam Film Festival: “In New York, for example, we built a gynaecologist’s office. That resulted in one film after another about pregnancy. Nowadays we put our efforts into sets which lead to a wide variety of stories.”

It’s “a bit like a game”, says the Bioscope’s press release, “except there’s no competition and mistakes are encouraged. The idea is not to produce good films but to create for the sake of creating.”

“I want to use the Home Movie Factory to show that everyone is creative,” says Gondry. “The fact that grown-ups no longer do arts and crafts or draw the way they did when they were children doesn’t mean that they have lost their creative faculties. Those just lie dormant. My factory is intended to revivify those faculties.”

The Home Movie Factory will be open Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 6pm, at the Museum of African Design, 281 Commissioner Street, and the Bioscope, 286 Fox Street. Go to www.thebioscope.com/thehomemoviefactory for more information and bookings

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Author Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

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