The movie Pretville, was shot in Haartebeesport where Jennifer Stern recently had the opportunity to spend some time. Photo: Pretville.co.za
South Africa in the 1950s was a pretty grim place. Apartheid was on the upswing, you couldn’t buy bread on Sundays, and you certainly did not dance on Sundays – at least not officially. But you did in Pretville. In Pretville you danced all the time. 

This outrageously colourful small-town dorpie has all the colour, style and optimism of 1950s American movies, and all the classic features of real South African village life. 

Okay, there probably weren’t many South African 1950’s dorps where there was no racism or homophobia, but all the characters are there – the sharp guys, the gossiping, cake-baking tannies, and the plaasjapies coming into town to spend their wages on the weekend. And that’s what the movie Pretville was all about. 

Not much of a plot, really – two white guys fight over a pretty girl, one gets arrested by the black cop, while the coloured gay mayor tries to bring peace back to the sweet little community. And everyone dances. And sings. 

All the time. Sweet movie – something like Herman Charles Bosman meets Bollywood – and, in most cases that’s where it would end. 

But producer Paul Kruger did one thing very differently. When he built the set for the movie, he eschewed the traditional cardboard fronts held up by wooden struts, and interiors made from papier mâché, and built the set from bricks and mortar. 

So it’s still there – it’s the core of Hartiwood. On weekends and holidays the set is open for business. You can eat hamburgers and drink milkshakes in the diner – served by miniskirt-clad waitresses of course – wander around the set, and walk into the plush ’50s-style cinema and watch the movie that shows the outside of that building, and the exact diner where you just had your ’50s-style meal. 

There are lots of movie-set theme parks the world over, but this is one of the very few – if not the only one – where you can watch the movie made on the set, on the set. As you walk outside the theatre, you’re back in the movie. A few things have changed. 

The Town Hall has become the movie theatre, and some of the interiors have been redone for another movie – French Toast. A somewhat more sophisticated offering, French Toast is a romantic comedy set in Stellenbosch and Paris, and it’s also part of the free screening programme at Pretville.

Some of the Paris interiors have been recreated in Pretville, while some exteriors were built a kilometre or two down the road – also from bricks and mortar, not cardboard and paste, and that’s now a restaurant. 

As you enter the premises of French Toast Koffie Kafee, it feels like you are in Montmartre, and the Café Alexandre is just like it is in the movie. .