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Love may eat you alive — a night of community cinema in Johannesburg

Love may eat you alive — a night of community cinema in Johannesburg
Tiffany, played by Njeri Nganga in a still from 'My Cannibal Crush'. Image: Supplied

Fresh Mural Productions’ new feature film ‘My Cannibal Crush’ premiered at The Bioscope independent cinema on 16 February to laughs, gasps and questions from the audience. Events like this show the desire for community cinema – something South Africa can do with more of – a breath of fresh air, unlike the formulaic movies Hollywood churns out.

On 16 February, Bill Badi’s new feature length film My Cannibal Crush had its theatrical premiere at The Bioscope in Johannesburg, in conjunction with Joburg Underground, to a sold-out audience. Badi describes it as a B-grade “Gen Z queer rom-com by way of horror”. 

It’s a dive into dark humour, where a bisexual woman gets a new roommate – a cannibal – who she starts to fall in love with. One could say it’s a meditation on the disposability of flesh; with young people’s “hook-up culture” centre stage, where people treat each other as a means to an end, and dispose of them when they’re done. And then there’s the cannibalism. 

It’s got a twist you may not see coming, surprisingly good pacing, and you’ll ask questions throughout: Will the cannibal eat the roommate? Where’s Mrs Whiskers the cat? And where did the ex-boyfriend vanish to? 

Set somewhere in South Africa, filmed in the arid highveld, the scenes set outside evoke an eerie feeling you can’t quite put your finger on –  reminiscent of horror movies in Australia. 

Still from 'My Cannibal Crush'. Image: Supplied

Tiffany, played by Njeri Nganga in a still from ‘My Cannibal Crush’. Image: Supplied

My Cannibal Crush had a budget of under R100,000 and only about 10 cast and crew. Badi wrote, directed and produced the film, and was the colourist and editor. The title role of Tiffany is played by Njeri Nganga, and the other lead, Gabi, by Sami Maseko. The disappearing boyfriend is played by Zack Ntombeni. Caley Jane Nkosi plays the sardonic and deadpan Amanda, while Nico Taljaard takes on the role of the truly terrifying Kenny and the very bleak Unathi is played by Bontle Nxumalo. 

In the 1940s, B-movies were cheaper to make, done quickly and with relatively unknown actors. They were paired with an A-list movie for financial purposes. Badi says that because these films have smaller budgets, they have less studio involvement and more creative freedom, and appeal to niche audiences.

“There’s some really interesting and weird ideas that come from B-movies,” they say. And they often become cult classics. 

In October 2023, Badi and Christopher van der Westhuizen started the production company Fresh Mural. The idea, says Van de Westhuizen, “is that it’s a space for fresh artists to have a voice”. 

“The industry that we’re in has a lot of barriers you’ve got to cross or blockades you can’t go past, so we’re hoping that this low-budget, fast-shooting style that we’re able to do, we’re going to be able to create art for what art is supposed to be. 

“It’s a fresh space for people to be able to paint whatever it is people feel they want to paint.” They want to retain the low-budget, fast-paced expression of who people are, with the possibility of larger-scale productions in the future.  

Gabi, played by Sami Masek in a still from ‘My Cannibal Crush’. Image: Supplied

Gabi, played by Sami Masek in a still from ‘My Cannibal Crush’. Image: Supplied

Badi is a director and a producer, as is Van der Westhuizen who is also an actor. The latter works as a software developer, and runs the business side of the production company. 

The pair connected with a few US-based production companies, looking at making low-budget films in South Africa for the American market. They say the US has a bigger audience for commercial, low-budget films. 

“We’ve been specifically looking to make black-focused or queer-focused content in a way that is not purely arthouse but is also fun and accessible, and nice and easy to watch. I think sometimes groups that don’t fit into the mainstream don’t have easy, fun stuff to watch,” Badi says. 

“At the same time, because we’re making cheap films, we can do what we want with it.” 

As a black queer person, Badi is excited about making films for audiences that they are a part of too, and with the process had fun indulging in topics that wouldn’t make the mainstream – like black lesbians and cannibalism in a romantic comedy. 

Badi started in the low-budget scene with filming Jenna Bums the Love Seat, with Carter Adkins, switching between filming when each person got tired of carrying the camera. They realised they could do more of this kind of filmmaking – after the film was shown at the Garden Route International Film Festival, alongside bigger South African films, as well as some US film festivals. 

My Cannibal Crush is set to go to a streaming platform next – destination not yet known, but it could be coming to laptops near you. 

“This beautiful thing that we have in the 21st century that is streaming; on the one hand the bigger films aren’t getting the seats that they may get theatrically, but what I think is so exciting about streaming is that it leaves room for niche films like this to get eyes on them that traditionally would never be screening on a Ster-Kinekor or Nu Metro,” Badi opines. 

Screening of 'My Cannibal Crush' on 16 February 2024. Image: Lathan Dooms

The theatrical release of ‘My Cannibal Crush’ on February 16 at The Bioscope in Johannesburg, with director Bill Badi giving the introduction before the movie. Image: Lathan Dooms

With Joburg Underground, Badi saw a gap in experimental film festivals in sub-Saharan Africa, and wanted to create a platform for short films under 15 minutes. 

It started taking off properly in 2023, going from one day to three nights of weird, cheaply shot short films. This success led to Joburg Underground featuring full-length films, including Honeycomb from the Slamdance Film Festival.

On 17 March, Joburg Underground, in conjunction with The Bioscope, will screen the horror Skinamarink (2022), which originally wasn’t released but leaked onto the internet and became a horror sensation, leading to audience demand.    

On Friday, the release of My Cannibal Crush showed there is a local appetite for the weird and wonderful, and the joy of people coming together to watch community cinema with a glass of wine. DM

Bill Badi wrote, directed and produced the film, and was the colourist and editor. Christopher van der Westhuizen was producer and assistant director along with Victoria González, Serole Makweya and Lathan Dooms. Mari Schultz was the cinematographer. Sound design and recording was by Natasha Luttjeboer. Bontle Nxumalo was the hair and make-up stylist.

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