5 Questions for Darryl Els

Darryl Els
Darryl Els | © supplied by Darryl Els

Darryl Els, co-founder and programme director of The Bioscope Independent Cinema, speaks to us about South African film talent and off mainstream film programming.

Darryl Els, you have established The Bioscope Independent Cinema as the go-to theatre for off-mainstream films and gained a regular audience. Tell us a bit about the beginnings of The Bioscope and how you carved a niche for your programming.

The idea for The Bioscope came from my time abroad and experience of a cinema exhibition landscape where varied ways of films meeting audiences (commercial art-house cinemas, multiplexes, micro-cinemas) work to create wide-ranging diversity of content and in turn, create and sustain audiences for different cinemas. Subsequently, following some research on the South African exhibition sector at university, Russell Grant and I started a screening series which then became a monthly screening at Arts on Main with the idea of testing this space. Then one February morning in 2010, I met with Henrike Grohs who wanted to donate the Goethe Institut’s 35mm projector and suddenly we were planning on opening a permanent space. Sadly, given the shift away from film prints we never did install that projector.

Since its inception four years ago, I’ve experimented a great deal with the programming at the Bioscope and came to realize that the cinema theatre needs to be a social and entertainment space as well as a cultural and political space. Since this time, I’ve tried to approach the programming at The Bioscope with this in mind, focusing on showing smaller local and international documentaries (which often stir up debate), independent features and experimental work as well as creating special and signature events like KiezKino and NoodleBox Cinema.

Who is your audience and are there additional demographics you would like to reach?

The audience that attends a regular Bioscope show varies quite a bit depending on what is showing – a local documentary will draw a particular type of audience as will one of our special event screenings. I’m constantly looking for ways to reach new audiences and strengthen existing ones, which is of course a great challenge in the case of a single-screen cinema like The Bioscope.  Reaching a younger audience with the programme is a keen interest of mine.  I would also like to see film students considering The Bioscope as a place where they can watch new, innovative or even inspiring work that might influence their own films. 

Does film have the power to inspire change – in people, in society?

It certainly does, and I think this can happen on a number of levels be it in the sheer and direct call-to-action as in Rehad Desai’s Miners Shot Down or in other ways like, Jeppe On A Friday (Arya Lalloo & Shannon Walsh) or The Good Man (Phil Harrison).  Although these latter films are examples of a more subtle approach to social commentary, they are very good examples of how film can reveal the often-hidden structural dynamics of the world we live in and create opportunities for critical reflection and discussion.

South Africa has an abundance of film talent – from directors to actors to film score composers. Do you think enough is being done to expose locally produced films to a wider audience nationally and internationally?

Internationally, I think there is a growing interest in South African cinema. The successes of directors like Oliver Hermanus and Khalo Matabane attest to this.  In addition, an increasing number of young directors and producers are involved in co-productions and generating international festival and sales interest in their work. This is a very positive step for the South African filmmaking community and industry.

From a national perspective however, there is still a lot to be done in bringing local films to local audiences. A key aspect of this is access to cinemas and in this regard, a strong independent cinema exhibition sector is vital. I believe that independent cinema owners should be encouraged to screen local films and should certainly be included in film release plans.  In general, I would like to see more political will towards the re-emergence of the independent sector as a central player in promoting cinema-going in the country.

What is the last film you watched?

The last film I watched was The Square by Jehane Noujaim, a brilliant documentary on the revolution in Egypt, which screened as part of Encounters 2014.

Darryl Els is the co-founder and programme director of The Bioscope Independent Cinema in Maboneng, Johannesburg.

KiezKino (German term for neighbourhood cinema) is a new monthly screening series at The Bioscope Independent Cinema, showing selected German films from the archive of the Goethe-Institut South Africa.