Inanda is a sprawling township outside Durban, which at different points in its history was the home of both Mathama Ghandi and John Dube, the first president of the ANC. And, as the new short film Inandawood documents, it is now a home for independent filmmaking. A network of amateur directors and actors, centred around Vukani Ndebele, have been building a pulp library of low-budget productions which feature stories of rampant Satanists, shape-shifting serial killers and brazen gangsters.
When a young Ndebele was confronted by the lack of film-making opportunities around him, he decided to do it for himself. As shown in the documentary, his first major project was Thomas is Back, centred on a zombie returning to the township to wreak havoc. The film blew up through word of mouth, with copies being circulated throughout the country. The success propelled him into even more projects. And rather than copying Hollywood horror tropes, the films take their lurid inspiration from local mythology and urban legends. His artistic example has encouraged others in Inanda and surrounding townships like Umlazi and Kwa Mashu to release their own work, inspired by his no-budget approach of using amateur crews and available resources.
But this no frills approach doesn’t indicate that Inanda filmmakers are just out to make a quick buck. As Inandawood clearly demonstrates, these works are inspired by a pure passion to entertain, put together by creative people with no direct access to the infrastructure of movie production. The short film is reminiscent of acclaimed feature documentary American Movie, which focuses on aspiring horror director Mark Borchardt. Both works are tributes to the power of film, as they highlight artists making their work in the face of difficulties and restrictions. Along with documenting a regional scene, Inandawood is an innovative work in its own right, edited with floating text and distorted sound effects. This playful style conveys the gritty enthusiasm of its source material perfectly. Despite considerable resources, there are far too many SA movies which reflect a dour, social realist perspective which seems uninterested in the possibilities of film as a medium. Unsurprisingly, they have failed to connect with either local or international audiences. By showing what can be done with little resources, these films reveal that it’s not about money. It’s about imagination. At the same time, the KZN scene has an authenticity which can’t be replicated by bigger budget works, revealing both the realties and the nightmares of the people who watch it with stark clarity.