Buhle Sithela, 25, who dreams of creating South Africa’s version of Disneyland Park, has laid the groundwork to replicate what is billed as the happiest place on Earth with his Vuma Pop-Up Cinema project. He is passionate about entertaining children from townships and rural areas, giving a cinema experience to those who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford.
Sithela dropped out of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, where he studied event management for two years, in 2016. He then worked at Short&Sweet in Cape Town, a platform that screens short films in pop-up cinemas. He also worked at the Isivivana Centre, a social justice community centre that has a library, classroom, amphitheatre and movie house that can accommodate more than 100 people.
“I was working there as a crew assistant. That helped me to know everything about setup. I thought to myself, why don’t I bring this to the poor children in the townships,” he says.
Getting his project – creating pop-up cinemas for children in his neighbourhood – off the ground had its challenges. “I started by cleaning bins to raise funds to launch my Vuma Pop-Up Cinema,” says Sithela. “I would then use the money I charged from cleaning bins to hire a projector and movies. On top of that, I also had to buy popcorn.”
His first screening was in Khayelitsha, followed by another in Alice in the Eastern Cape in December 2016. Children as young as five had already formed a queue to watch the animated Wazi’s Wonderful World, his first screening of 2021, in Khayelitsha.
“Buhle is helping a lot. He is [also] cutting our children’s hair for free. We are grateful for that. Some of us have no money to take them to salons and barber shops. Schools are about to open and they will be tidy, thanks to him,” said Zandile Khartoum, 25, a neighbour.
The children were wearing masks and had to sanitise their hands before entering the venue. Khanya Mtyhala, 12, says she has been attending the pop-up cinema for almost a year. “They [the movies] are very educational. This is a real cinema. We are served popcorn, juice and snacks,” said the grade 6 pupil from Isiphiwo Primary School.
Qhama Pitoyi, 11, was attending for the first time. “My friends keep on talking about movies they watch here. The most important thing is that my friend emphasises about how educational movies are here,” said the grade 5 pupil from Kuyasa Primary School.
“My aim is to do road shows across the country. I want to show movies to the kids in rural areas and townships. Those people have no access to cinemas,” says Sithela. “We can engage communities to watch educational films and have discussions. Cinema creates safe spaces for kids, especially on weekends and public holidays. Free accessible entertainment.
“Most of our screenings are indoors and are hosted in halls, churches, educare centres. Then outdoor screenings are only hosted during the summer season, when the weather is warm and no high winds. Mobile screenings make us unique. We use different venues to engage children for films,” he adds.
“We hire venues for film screening. We are mobile and host around Cape Town areas. There is a limited number of audience due to Covid regulations. We get local films and animation from Triggerfish Animation Studios and Videovision Entertainment. Snacks are provided through donations.”
Vuma Pop-Up Cinema has graced community halls, churches, creches and open spaces around Khayelitsha. Parents say this cinema is making a huge difference as some of them cannot afford pay-TV.
Nolubabalo Vumendlini, 54, a mother of two girls says: “This is the only cinema for my children. It helps a lot as my children are not left behind as far as cartoons and movies are concerned. I don’t have a DStv like other parents. But my children always talk about cartoons. That is thanks to Vuma cinema.”
Vuma Pop-Up Cinema focuses on children from age four to 12, and teenagers from 13 to 19 years old. Buhle Sithela raised the funds to eventually buy cinema equipment through a crowdfunding campaign. You can donate towards snacks by reaching him on email or 078 584 4166 .