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Wednesday Jan 09, 2013

Cape's Labia cinemas face uncertain future

Uncertainty surrounds the future of Cape Town's iconic Labia independent art cinema which has premises in Orange and Kloof streets.

The Labia Theatre's owner, Ludi Kraus, in the original Labia cinema.

For over two decades the Labia cinema - whose very name is a historical Cape Town curiosity - has been operating four screens on their Art Deco-era Orange Street premises, with two screens also having opened in the Lifestyle Centre in Kloof Street 12 years ago.

Both cinemas, beloved by movie buffs, face impending closure. However, cinema owner Ludi Kraus is confident the Orange Street premises, at the very least, will be able to remain open.

The lease on the Orange Street premises, owned by the provincial Department of Transport and Public Works, expires at the end of May, said Kraus, but a joint agreement between the Labia, Cape Town Film Commission and public works was currently being negotiated.

But Kraus was much less confident of the future of the Kloof Street cinemas following the Lifestyle Centre changing ownership in August.

Kraus said he was currently negotiating a settlement with the old Lifestyle Centre owners after they sued for liquidation of The Labia Cinema following a lease dispute which goes back four years.

There was currently no lease with the new Durban-based owners of the Lifestyle Centre. "At the moment we do not have a lease," said Kraus.

"We have approached the new owners but they have not heard us. Now we are not sure whether the new owners want a cinema or whether they (would) rather have retail shops."

In the meantime, the Cape Film Commission is negotiating with Public Works to take over the lease of the Orange Street premises for the next 20 years, said the commission's chief executive officer, Denis Lille.

He said the Cape Film Commission proposal to take over the lease of the Labia on Orange Street was supported by approximately 75 000 members of the film-watching community.

He said the commission would operate a provincial film theatre which would incorporate similar programmes that Kraus had been running.

This, he said, would avert the closing of the iconic film theatre.

"It would be very sad if the Labia did not continue as a film theatre. We (Cape Film Commission) had discussions with the provincial government and MEC for Transport Robin Carlisle. We got support from officials and politicians in the province and the City (of Cape Town) for the proposal," said Lille.

He said the discussions had been fruitful, "we are just waiting for the outcome".

On Orange, The Labia Theatre consists of four screens, a 176-seater, a 95seater, a 67-seater and an "intimate" 66 seater, according to information sourced from The Labia Theatre website,

The theatre's curious name, which in English refers to intimate parts of the female anatomy, originates from the building being opened as a live performing arts theatre by Princess Labia in 1949.

Labia is latin for "lips" and in Italian it would presumably translate similarly.

Kraus said he had been into the history of the deeds records and, although the Labia family never appeared to have owned the property, which was built in the 1930s, they probably donated toward it being refurbished as a theatre.

Carlisle's spokesperson, Siphesihle Dube, confirmed the Labia's current lease on Orange Street would expire on May 31.

Dube also confirmed that a meeting between Lille and the department's Provincial Property Management Director, Shane Hindley, took place in September, but could not provide details of that meeting.

Cape Times




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