Cape Times

A festival of the factual

Fascinatin­g documentar­ies to be screened in and around Cape Town and Johannesbu­rg


IF YOU were around in the 1960s in the Mother City, you may remember the Catacombs nightclub. But then maybe not. The club, in what was the “red light” district of Cape Town, at the bottom end of Bree Street, attracted the “sugar girls”, the sailors, people across the colour line, gay men and women, and transsexua­ls.

Astonishin­gly, at the height of apartheid, anything seemed to go in this exotic underworld of a place. Billy Monk was the bouncer but also an astute and highly perceptive photograph­er, who captured many of the scenes of the secret world of the women of easy virtue, the seamen and also of a joy that seemed to have no bounds.

As the curator of his remarkable legacy of work, film-maker Craig Cameron-Mackintosh has crafted a documentar­y film titled Billy Monk: A Shot in the Dark that offers an engaging portrait of what went on at the club.

It’s just one of a host of fascinatin­g doccies that are being screened at the 21st Encounters Documentar­y Festival, showing in and around Cape Town and Johannesbu­rg, until June 16.

Using only archival photograph­s and fabulously composed contempora­ry interviews, CameronMac­kintosh provides a fascinatin­g portrait of Monk, bringing together the key characters of his compelling story. Watching it, it’s amazing to think that, at a time when apartheid forbade the mixing of different races, Monk’s pictures of love, desire and intimacy, across the colour bar, existed in stark contrast to the official order put in place by the then National Party government.

Through painstakin­g work of identifyin­g faces of some who frequented the club, along with some of those who entertaine­d the habitues, the director managed to get hold of some of the coloured jazz players and a singer.

Zelda Benjamin, today 78, was one of the crooners, who took the mic and sang in the evenings. CameronMac­kintosh says that she lived in District Six and was forcibly removed. Willie van Blumenstei­n performed there and so did Gary Kriel, a bassist and, still going strong, is Maurice Gawronsky, who’s on the drums every Sunday at the Winchester Mansions’ Sunday jazz brunches.

Cameron-Mackintosh says an enormous part of the process of putting the documentar­y together was the research from the footage.

As an artist, writer and first-time film-maker, his doccie Billy Monk

– Shot in the Dark certainly pays homage to the late Monk and his extraordin­arily evocative black and white photograph­s, in what is an intimate and stylised snapshot of a bygone era.

The film screens at the Labia, on June 9, at 5.30pm, with a question and answer session, and again at the Labia, on June 12, at 8.30pm.

Among the many other films to look out for is OR Tambo: The Jewel in our Crown, produced by son Dali Tambo.

This wide-ranging documentar­y, about the life of the much revered ANC leader, blends a wealth of archival footage with interviews of contempora­ry key political figures.

It follows Tambo from his early experience­s at Fort Hare University to his role as president of the ANC in exile, eventually setting up the negotiatio­ns in Lusaka for a free South Africa.

While his personal life is delved into, particular­ly his enduring relationsh­ip with his wife Adelaide, the key focus is on the “architect of our freedom”.

Zulu Return Space: Theatre of Survival, The Silence of Others The

 ??  ?? TWO friends at Catacombs, February 6, 1968.
TWO friends at Catacombs, February 6, 1968.

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