Schedule Alert: Durban Poison
Coming up on SABC2 on Sunday, 4 January 2009 at 21h00, the documentary Durban Poison:

In 1975 the Stable Theatre, the first black-owned independent theatre of SA, was founded in Durban. Three decades later three filmmakers - Keith Jones, Deon Maas and Michael Lee - set out to see what happened to the legacy of the Stable, and its founder, Kessie Govender.

What they found was a theatre, a history and a people in ruins, caught between political factionalism in Kwa-Zulu Natal, total disinterest from the local government to make it work and a widow so intent on preserving the legacy of her husband that she was killing it in her inability to let go.

To tell the story they set up a musical to be directed by Mbongeni Ngema, telling the history of the Stable, of protest theatre, and of the protest culture of Durban in general.

During three years of struggle trying to make the project, the crew experienced the forced resignation of the MEC who had promised to support the project, due to a sexual indiscretion, the arrest of the CEO of the theatre on corruption charges by the Scorpions, and finally the unwillingness of Mbongeni Ngema to follow the project through in the face of such troubles.

Finally the musical faded away, resulting in Durban Poison - a documentary about failing to make a documentary, and how the arts and true spirit come second to vice, corruption, jealousy and selfishness.

The Stable Theatre was the first independent black theatre in South Africa, founded in the racially and culturally mixed city of Durban. Its most famous product is Broadway playwright and pop star Mbongeni Ngema, a controversial figure tainted by scandal and accusations of racism.

In an attempt to return to his roots, Ngema begins work on an ambitious new musical designed to tell the Stable’s history. Unseen fault lines are crossed, and corruption, fraud and politics threaten to engulf the project. At the same time, one of the film’s producers Deon Maas unexpectedly becomes a reality TV celebrity and decides to use his new public notoriety to investigate the situation.

As the musical collapses and the theatre itself slides into failure, the film becomes a road movie through the minefield of contemporary South African politics and a search for the deeper problems at the heart of the Stable Theatre’s collapse.

Fast facts

Durban Poison was made with the financial assistance of the National Film and Video Foundation and the New York State Council for the Arts. The film also features a guest appearance by Joseph Shabalala and original music by Madala Kunene, Thabani Mahlobo, Amu, Shugasmaxx, and the underground Canadian DJ So Called.

It's been flighted at the Durban Film Festival and the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam.

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