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October 26, 2012

South Africans Make Own Movies

by Peter Cox

Interested in making your own movie, but don’t have the money for a camera, or costumes or a set?  Don’t worry.  Johannesburg’s Home Movie Factory has you covered. 

In a former car body repair warehouse outside downtown Johannesburg, a group of workers from a non-profit foundation in Soweto are making a movie.  The movie, which they call The Shebeen Queen, deals with issues of drugs, sex and AIDS.

The film will likely never get to the Cannes Film Festival, let alone your local theater.  But that's not exactly the point of the exercise.

The Home Movie Factory is the brainchild of Academy Award winning director Michel Gondry, who has made films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep and The Green Hornet.

Concept

The concept was developed to allow the public to come in and make movies on a pre-designed set, and get the experience of going through the filmmaking process.

Gondry's idea is based on his movie Be Kind Rewind, in which two movie store clerks remake Hollywood blockbusters on a shoestring budget.  He's taken this idea to Paris, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Rotterdam and Moscow.

"There are a couple of philosophies which is why it’s such a good project," he said. "It’s to give people who don't have creativity as their everyday work the chance to, without all the industrial process, to understand the experience and joy of filmmaking.

This is Arya Lalloo, the creative director for the Home Movie Project.

"Also, part of the idea is to find within the groups, within the team set up you are able to interact with strangers or people you know in a different kind of way," said Lalloo.

Visitors are put in groups of about 15.  They spend the first 45 minutes democratically narrowing down the genre and theme of their movie.  The next 45 minutes are spent coming up with a plot, filming locations, actors, costumes and hammering out other details.

Finally, the crew heads onto the set - a large empty warehouse space divided into different film backdrops  - a bedroom, kitchen, church, courthouse, doctor’s office, two Ford Cortinas, a Minibus and a township home. The filming begins.

"People really come together in the creative process and all those social barriers, and inhibitions, when you are in a creative moment seem to kind of dissolve.  The process itself is very interesting," said Lalloo.

The owners of the Bioscope Theater in Johannesburg, Darryl Els and Russell Grant, convinced Gondry to allow them to bring the idea to Johannesburg - the first city in Africa to have the project.

"This city is yearning for something different," said Els. "It’s been living.  People have been going to shopping malls and carbon copy nightclubs.  It’s really a matter of Johannesburg offering these new things.  So I think it was important that something like this came to Joburg.”

Popularity of project

Important?  Maybe. But definitely popular. The project, which began in early September, has already produced 150 movies, and has been booked solid.

When different groups combine to make a movie, the results are always interesting, says Vusi Thwala a guide at the factory.  He's noticed some trends.

"White groups tend to focus on horror and sci-fi, while black groups come in and do gangs and drugs," said Thwala. "When you combine them together, you get a whole lot of challenges.  You get sci-fi and township action tied together.  The type of energy you get there is actually hilarious - it’s something you didn't think you'd see."

To make the project work, Els and Russell raised funds locally and received fundraising help from the French Institute. Because of the fundraising, there is no cost to anyone who comes in to make a film.

So far things have been running smoothly, but Els says they did decide to make one change early on.

"Do we still have the gun? We took the guns away from the prop room. [Cause there was always cops and robbers]. That has not stopped the violent narrative from taking place. Generally people tend to die at the end of every movie... There is a thing where you can't lead the stories too much," said the guide.

At the end of filming, each group walks over to the Bioscope Independent Cinema to watch their film.

Tabiso Selepe, who was with the group from Soweto, says this was a unique experience.

"It was like scary at times.  But acting is acting.  It's fun.  It's entertaining.  I feel like Nicholas Cage, eh.  We are like superstars today, like an action movie," said Selepe.

The Home Movie Factory is open through the end of November. You can reserve your spot at the Johannesburg Home Movie Factory Facebook page.