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The Labia Theatre Celebrates 70 Years to the Day with 'Rocketman'


Labia Theatre 70thThe Labia Theatre celebrated its 70th anniversary on Sunday night, exactly 70 years later, with the first international screening of Rocketman. The biographical musical based on the life and times of Elton John first screened at the Cannes Film Festival, gracing the Labia's silver screen just three days after its French debut. A mystery to attendees until the opening credits, it's only scheduled to open in the United Kingdom tomorrow on 22 May and in South Africa on 7 June. While the anniversary celebrations saw friends and family gathering to hear speeches and enjoy canap├ęs, refreshments and the cake-cutting ceremony, the festivities will continue later this year with a festival of Labia highlights.

Originally opened as a theatre for live stage performances on 19 May 1949, it only had one screen when current owners Ludi and Ann Kraus took over on 1 September 1989, almost three decades ago. Kraus has a long history with cinema, having had his first film encounter at the age of nine in his father's movie house in Windhoek. From a career in law to owning a cinema, Ludi hasn't looked back, offering loyal moviegoers cinema magic at affordable prices. Screening art house movies, documentaries foreign films and extreme sports, the Labia is the last surviving independent movie theatre in Cape Town after the transition from reel-to-reel projectors to digital.

Over the years, the cinema has had many upgrades moving from one to four screens but has retained much of the charm and nostalgia with an old-fashioned ticket booth and retro design. While moving from film to digital was a costly exercise, it's enabled the Labia to compete with the commercial cinema circuit screening films as soon as they are released. Showing a marked improvement in terms of quality and accessibility, it's helped widen their audience, attracting younger viewers looking for retro places in favour of mainstream cinemas.

Labia Theatre 70th

Ludi curates the selection of films, being sure to focus on quality, merit and commercial value. A loyal fan base, the film community showed their love when a crowdfunding campaign was initiated to upgrade the equipment, which ensured they were able to continue showing films after upgrading their four cinemas to digital. Kraus says, "we hope that we still provide a little bit of magic by allowing our patrons to make an evening out visiting the Labia", with reference to the evolution and future of film. Together with Roodeberg Wine, which also celebrated its 70th anniversary this year, the cinema seems to be going from strength-to-strength.