Take me, break me – anyway you want me.
When Ronnie and Thomas get together; somebody usually dies. At the very least there will be a lot of blood. These two independent filmmakers have found each other through a mutual fascination with the horror film genre. Ronnie Belcher is award-winning jewellery designer, photographer and filmmaker. Thomas Dorman studied art at the Cape Technical College before focusing on graphic design at Austin Ellis Graphic Design School. Their short film, Regression, recently won the award for “Best Local Short” at the 2010 SA HORRORFEST.
“During December 2008 Ronnie was having a relationship with one of my models,’ says Thomas. “And I wanted to do a shoot in Ronnie’s attic.” Ronnie lives in a Victorian semi-detached house in the back end of Gardens where the street people on a Saturday morning are too lethargic too beg. The street in front of his house is deserted and the area itself has the ambience of a horror film set. Ronnie’s house, however, is a haven. A wooden staircase leads into a gorgeous wooden floored kitchen with dark orange walls. The smell of freshly brewed coffee fills the kitchen. Ronnie and Thomas are waiting for me. Leon Visser joins them. Somehow I expected them to have red-rimmed eyes, pale faces, and corks through their ears, and to be slugging back Jack Daniels for breakfast, but these guys are fresh-faced and clearly focussed on their work.
“While I was busy doing the model shoot, Ronnie was filming me shooting the girl,” Thomas continues. “He had a rough script that he thought could fit some of the resultant footage.” The two guys instantly gelled and their first short film was born. “We shot KiTTY KiLL on a handycam,” says Ronnie. “It is was a two month project and is still one of our finest films to date.” KiTTY KiLL won best Art Direction, best Cinematography, best Editing and Best Overall Film at the 2009 South African Auteur Film Festival. Their unique collaboration has so far led to Emma-O, which won Best Runner-up Local Short Film” at the SA Horrorfest 2008, and 23 Rue d’Amour, Regression, and their most recent work, The Lovers. Ronnie and Thomas co-write and direct their films.
Leon Visser, photographer, editor and producer, joined the team for the making of Regression and The Lovers. “Two months before the shooting was to take place I got a Facebook invite from Regression,” says Leon, “I knew that I had to be part of it, even if I made coffee.” I said I have cameras and can help.” He ended up shooting the entire film. Regression is a chilling short film of a journey through a couple’s relationship with each other and themselves. It is a dark, tragic, scary and sad reflection on the darker side of love and what happens when we can’t let go of each other and are consumed by love and our own runaway emotions.
They call their films horror but watching The Lovers it is obvious that their films are powerful works of fine art. Ronnie and Thomas says their films are less about the Zeitgeit and the issues of the day such as AIDS, poverty and politics, but rather about individual journeys removed from societal influences.
There is never a linear story,” says Ronnie. “We are pedantic about or time frames and environment. The Lovers can be best described as post apocalyptic 1920’s love story. The movie took 56 hours from script to screen,” says Ronnie.
In the film two lovers who go on a journey following a string of cotton that they discover in the woman’s belly button. Their heads are wrapped in cloth as they journey through a Salvador Dali looking landscape. There are strong themes of birth, betrayal, love, denial and murder, and hardly a word spoken. “It is difficult to get actors who can convincingly do dense dialogue,” Leon explains. “We wanted each shot to look like a painting,” says Ronnie. And indeed the film is a visual feast with its rich textures, symmetrical themes, and surreal use of colours. The production value of the film is very high. In one of the scenes a Gary Cummiskey poem is narrated. “The music we usually finalise when we know what the film looks like,” says Ronnie. We are very inspired by films like David Lynch’s Eraserhead. The music for example in the Lovers are soundscapes. It is a journey. You don’t hear it as much as you feel it.”
Then Estè Kira walks into the kitchen. She is smoking a pipe. Her body is covered in intricate tattoos and a pair of silver goggles is roosting in her violently red hair. She has no eyebrows. She has been working in the film industry for around 6 years and works on commercials, series, features, shortfilms, music videos, macabre visual art and scriptwriting. She works as Production Designer with BlackMilk and is responsible for preparing the environment for filming. She laughs as she tells me how some of the special effects and props are created. “Once we needed a scene where a penis is cut in half and cooked. We had to make it believable. The usual visual effects guys could not help us because we had to cook the penis and the thing would just dissolve. So I worked with a food stylist and we created a penis out of steak, salami and chicken skin. I still have one in my fridge!” She is also the head honcho of Miss Demeanour & the Squid Circus which sees her entertaining people with a visual performance that involves an octopus and several hooks pierced through her back.
Our movies usually start out small and then evolves into something gigantic,” Says Thomas. “Myself Ronnie and Este fund most of the projects in collaboration with production company, Sex On Toast, that often helps out.” We hope that someone will spot what we can do with a minimal budget and then realise our potential if we had more money available. We are also thinking of creating a box set collection of our short films.”
Just before we all trundle down the stairs and into the empty street, Estè corners me in the kitchen and insists on reciting a quote from Barend Buitekamer that to her defines her work with BlackMilk and Squid Circus, ‘In this world, an artist must sometimes be his own I-am-what-I-am god. He must visit upon the conforming meatpuppets plague after plague of obscure shock art. He must lead them from their land of milk and honey into a warzone of blood and semen. Once there he must cast them upon burning pyres… and forget about them’
On 27 November Flymachine Films, BlackMilk Productions and Purple Velvet productions will be screening their films at CULTin Johannesburg. There will be two movies from the United States and five movies from South Africa’s independent film makers. Submachine, Slashdogs, Shots Fired and Ransom Note will provide music on the night. Find the event at CCHQ, corner of Main and Violet on Fisher’s Hill. Cover Charge of R90, Doors open at 6pm.