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Showmax is an internet-based subscription video on demand service supplying an extensive catalogue of TV shows and movies.

Rage, the first Showmax Original horror

In Rage, Showmax’s first Original horror movie, a group of school-leavers descend on a tiny coastal town for a celebration of their freedom. Roxy, Sihle, Kyle, Leon, Tamsyn and Neo party on the beach and drink themselves silly every night. The townsfolk, Hermien and her son Albert, are welcoming – too welcoming. During a psychedelic trip on the beach, the friends witness a disturbing birth ritual, which could be a hallucination, or not. Soon fertility figurines start to appear at random places, and what is supposed to be the best holiday of their lives turns to horror as the teenagers are picked off one by one.

Rage is directed by Jaco Bouwer, a multi-award-winning theatre director who’s one of three Best Director nominees in the drama series category at the 2020 SAFTAs, for Dwaalster. His short film, this country is lonely, premiered at International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2018 and he also directed Die Spreeus, one of the 10 most-watched local series on Showmax in 2019.

Nicole Fortuin, whose previous film, Flatland, opened the Berlin Panorama, stars as Tamsyn, with The Girl From St Agnes’ breakout stars Jane de Wet and Tristan de Beer as Roxy and Kyle; two-time Silwerskerm winner Carel Nel (Dwaalster, Hum, Slaaf) as Albert; Sihle Mnqwazana, who co-wrote and acted in The Fall, a New York Times critic’s choice play, as Neo; Shalima Mkongi (IsithembisoNkululekoKeeping Score) as Sihle; and Fiesta, Kanna and Fleur du Cape nominee David Viviers (Kanarie) as Leon.

Rage is available first and only on Showmax from Tuesday, 31 March 2020. 

Somhale wedding takes viewing crown

More than half of the catalogue of TV shows and movies on Showmax, whether measured in hours or number of episodes, is now local content. This deliberate shift to local started more than a year ago with shows like The River and The Queen, and more recently with Lockdown and Kwa Mam’Mkhize. And now the latest Showmax Original, Somizi and Mohale: The Union, is breaking viewing records.

Why does this matter? Local content drives views. The Somhale wedding just broke the all-time record for the number of views on its first day on Showmax, ahead of both the Showmax Original The Girl From St Agnes and the most popular international series ever screened on Showmax.

Local content doesn’t just get views, it also brings in new subscribers. Showmax tracks first-views statistics – what’s the first show people watch after signing up for Showmax – under the assumption that this show influenced the decision to subscribe. Currently, six out of the top 10 most popular shows as ranked by first views on Showmax are local. 

Subscription video on demand (SVOD) is rapidly growing in popularity. Showmax now has almost half-a-billion play events (somebody watches a show, movie or live sporting event) annually, streaming around 200 petabytes (one petabyte = 1 billion megabytes) of data per year. 

Viewing patterns are changing, with mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) becoming the dominant way to watch. Looking at viewing hours, mobile devices make up around 45% of the total, with lean-back (smart TV, media player, etc…) making up around 35%, and web viewing accounting for the remaining 20%. Interestingly, Android completely dominates mobile viewing, making up around 80% of the total, versus just 20% for iOS.

Speaking about the importance of local content, Niclas Ekdahl, CEO of the Connected Video division of MultiChoice said:

“We expected Somhale to do well but the response was even bigger than we’d hoped, and it goes to show how our shift to local content is paying dividends. In fact, the views of local content are up more than 40% in less than a year. 

“The key to supplying local content is realising it’s a marathon. Bringing on new shows and new episodes day in, day out, week in, week out is what our customers are looking for. And thanks to the decades of local content commissioning and production expertise sitting in this company, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.”

Somizi and Mohale: The Union started this Monday with an episode celebrating their traditional wedding, which merged their respective Zulu and Sotho cultures in a flamboyant celebration full of romance, gorgeous decor, dazzling chandelier cakes, G.H. Mumm champagne and multiple costume changes… A new episode drops every Monday, from the road to their wedding, to their individual bachelor parties, and then their white wedding as the finale on 16 March 2020.

Julianna Margulies on outbreak thriller The Hot Zone, filmed in SA

National Geographic’s hit scripted drama The Hot Zone is now streaming on Showmax. Golden Globe winner Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife) stars opposite Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones) in the mini-series, which is based on the best-selling non-fiction thriller of the same name by Richard Preston, about an outbreak of the Ebola virus in the US in 1989.

An invisible, real-life monster with a ninety-percent kill rate, Ebola is enough to scare even the master of horror himself, Stephen King, who said the book was “one of the most horrifying things I’ve read in my whole life.” 

Although it is a dramatisation, the six-part series is inspired by real events. US Army pathologist Colonel Jaax, a wife and mother of two, had one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Every day, she donned layers of protective gear to enter the Biosafety Level 4 lab at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), where she handled the world’s deadliest viruses. One day in 1989, she tested a sample from a research laboratory in Reston, Virginia, and quickly feared they were dealing with one of the deadliest viruses known.

What followed was a nightmare of accidental exposures, the discovery that there were no protocols in place for dealing with an outbreak, and bureaucratic in-fighting that saw Jaax forced to put her career, and her life, on the line to prevent an outbreak of the Ebola virus.

In addition to its two main stars, The Hot Zone’s cast includes Emmy winner Topher Grace (BlacKkKlansman), Critics Choice winner Noah Emmerich (The Americans), People’s Choice nominee Robert Sean Leonard (House M.D.), James D’Arcy (Agent Carter, Broadchurch) and Grace Gummer (Mr. Robot). 

If the scenery in the Kenya flashback scenes looks suspiciously familiar, that’s because it’s very close to home. The story follows two timelines – the 1989 US incident, and the horrifying outbreak in Kenya almost a decade earlier, which makes up the back story of Cunningham’s character, Wade Carter. The Kenya scenes were filmed in South Africa in 2018, mostly in and around Durban and Richards Bay, so keep an eye out for cameos from South African actors Neil McCarthy (Jozi-H), Bohang Moeko (Ring of Lies), Sive Mabuye (Scandal), Sylvaine Strike (Black Sails), Joe Vaz (Good Omens) and Camilla Waldman (Wild at Heart).

The series’ cast is passionate about the importance of this story. Margulies is speaking out to raise awareness about the disease. What gripped her most when she first received the scripts was that Ebola, a disease with the power to “wipe out six million people in the city of DC faster than you could close the highways”, had reached America almost three decades earlier, and she hadn’t known a thing about it.

“To me it was always this thing way off in Africa,” she told Associated Press. “It didn’t affect me. When I read the book and the first four scripts they sent me, I realised this is a global issue, and as a human nation we need to stand behind our scientists and start supporting the research. Because without it … it could be the way we all go. It wipes out villages … and it’s easily spread. There’s a ninety-percent fatality rate. And when I read that, and saw what this woman did, and the hurdles she had to climb [sic] in order to get the permission to do her job, I felt compelled to shine a light on what I think is a global problem.”

“We had Ebola on US soil and it’ll be on European soil at some point,” she said in an interview with The Guardian. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. There’s still no protocol. There’s still no cure.”

With the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the DRC, the series is a timely arrival to our screens, and we’re not the only ones who feel that way. Its US release drew 7.5 million viewers when it aired in June last year, making it Nat Geo’s most-watched scripted series ever, with viewership numbers 350% up from the channel’s previous six-week average. It topped acclaimed scripted series Genius: Einstein, as well as MARS, and claimed second place (after The Story of God with Morgan Freeman) as Nat Geo’s most-watched series of all time. 

At #69 on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the Best TV Shows Of 2019, the show has a 90% critics rating. The Hollywood Reporter says, “It nails a mood of mounting paranoia and the visceral impact of a solid, jump-in-the-dark horror movie,” while Indiewire calls it, “a scary, absorbing thriller you won’t easily forget.” 

Forest Whitaker on Godfather of Harlem, choosing roles and doubting himself

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Black Panther) was in Johannesburg last November to promote Godfather of Harlem, the hit new crime series from the creators of Narcos

Forest stars as infamous crime boss Bumpy Johnson, who returns from Alcatraz in the early 1960s to find the neighbourhood he once ruled in a shambles. With the streets controlled by Vincent ‘Chin’ Gigante (Emmy nominee Vincent D’Onofrio from Daredevil and Jurassic World), Bumpy forms an unlikely alliance with radical preacher Malcolm X (Nigél Thatch, reprising his role from Selma) to take on the Italian mob and regain his position as the titular Godfather of Harlem

Now streaming on Showmax, Godfather of Harlem is the remarkable true story of how the criminal underworld and the civil rights movement collided during one of the most tumultuous times in American history.

We caught up with Forest to find out more…

What research did you do to prepare for the role? 

There’s not a lot of footage of Bumpy Johnson. There are maybe five photos, but you have to take from those postures and gestures, pull them inside and create a full human being. 

I spent time with Chism, one of Bumpy’s bodyguards. He’s 94 now but still coherent. I also spent time with Junebug, another guy who was part of the fabric of Bumpy Johnson’s world. They still live in Harlem. They were explaining to me how he would go about his day, how they were protecting him. They helped me a lot. 

I also had an adviser in Professor Smalls, who was working with Malcolm X and actually took over the mosque when Malcolm left.  

I read Mayme’s book. I read Bumpy’s poems. I studied the history. I read up on Malcolm. I read up on Adam Clayton Powell Jnr.  I listened to the music of the day.  I just got more and more information, as I read the books and spoke to people. That helped me figure out how to shape him into a real person. 

When you’re researching a character like Bumpy, what are you looking for in your conversations with the people who knew him? 

I just wanted to understand what his fears were and what his needs were. So I was searching for those kinds of stories, for the kinds of things he felt he needed to protect, for the fear choices in his life. I was looking to find his truth and discover what drives him, to understand the moments that happened in his life that motivate his actions in the series.

How do you keep a TV role like Bumpy Johnson fresh? 

I keep it fresh by using myself as a barometer. I continue to try to push myself to do more. On set, directors often say, “You did this scene and it was working really well, and then you did something else. What was that?” – I was continuing to explore. My choices start to shift. They stay on the theme, they still fit the edit, but they’re a process of discovery. 

You have to be like a child. And that’s hard to maintain. 

Do you prefer film or TV? 

I just want to tell stories in whatever way I can. My last couple of projects after this one were film, and I’m still open to do more. 

How do you choose your roles?
I keep trying to grow as an artist and a person and I choose my roles that way.  A lot of times I’ve chosen roles that cause me a little bit of fear. 

I just love playing complete characters – that’s all I care about. 

Did you ever lie to get a role? 

On The Color of Money, they fired someone who couldn’t play pool and they asked if I could play. I’d played pool before but I wasn’t a great pool player. They asked me to fly myself to Chicago to audition, so I spent days just playing pool, hour after hour. I spent 14 hours a day in the pool hall. When I got there, the first thing Martin Scorcese asked me to do was to just play pool… 

In your career, have you ever doubted yourself? 

Most of the time, through the early part of my career, I was doubting myself. Even after I won at Cannes for Bird, I was deciding whether or not I’d be able to do this as a life. It wasn’t until really late – 15 or 20 years into my career – that I started to say, “Okay, I’ll continue to do this for the rest of my lifetime.” 

When I did The Last King of Scotland, I started to understand something about transformation, about changing my energy to become someone else. Those sorts of moments became affirmations for me, not people.

The Snail and the Whale is now streaming on Showmax

The Snail and the Whale, the latest Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler adaptation, is now streaming first on Showmax in Africa.

Animated in Cape Town by Triggerfish for Magic Light Pictures, The Snail and the Whale premiered on BBC One at Christmas to four-star reviews and over 7.5m viewers. RadioTimes calls the 26m animation “visually spectacular… a lovely treat to watch as a family…”  

This is the story of a tiny snail with an itchy foot, who travels the world on the tail of a great big, grey-blue humpback whale. It’s a tale of shimmering ice and coral caves, of shooting stars and enormous waves, and of how the snail, so small and frail, saves the life of the humpback whale.  

“Although it was first published in 2003, this story now seems more relevant than ever,” says RadioTimes, highlighting the “environmental message which kids will surely take to heart” and “a lovely friendship between two wildly different creatures.”

The Snail and the Whale is directed by two-time Oscar nominee Max Lang (The Gruffalo, Room On The Broom) and multi-award-winning South African Daniel Snaddon (Stick Man). This is their second Donaldson-Scheffler collaboration, following on from the success of Zog, which earned the keen but clumsy dragon gold stars everywhere from Shanghai International TV Festival to New York International Children’s Film Festival last year, not to mention nominations for International Emmy, Kidscreen, and Annie awards in 2020. 

“For anyone who’s ever felt overwhelmed, like the world is too big for you to make a difference, The Snail and the Whale is an encouragement that even though you feel small – and may even be small – what you do still matters,” says Snaddon. “The important thing is to keep hoping and to keep trying.”

The Snail and the Whale is voiced by star British acting talent, with two-time Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins (Paddington, The Shape Of Water) as Snail, Rob Brydon (Gavin & Stacey, and every Julia Donaldson adaptation) as Whale, Cariad Lloyd (Peep Show) as Teacher and Dame Diana Rigg (Lady Tyrell in Game of Thrones – and Tracy Bond, James Bond’s only wife, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) as the narrator.

“I Skyped in for the voice recordings,” says Snaddon. “As a kid from the Lowveld, Skype is a huge blessing because it stops you feeling too starstruck. I’m used to seeing Sally and Diana on screen, and they’re still just on a screen, so you can have a normal conversation.”

The Snail and the Whale is a longstanding favourite in our house,” says Brydon. “It’s an epic journey across the globe, where the tiniest creature and the mightiest mammal experience the vastness of our planet together.”

“Both characters go on such a heart-warming, emotional and ultimately life-changing journey together,” says Hawkins. “It’s a very beautiful and important friendship for them both.”

The Snail and the Whale’s environmental theme particularly resonated with her. “The protection of our oceans is everything,” she says. “I hope this animation will inspire family audiences everywhere in helping to take care of our beautiful earth and its creatures for future generations and beyond.”

Snaddon first read The Snail and the Whale to his son Frank when he was still in utero. When Frank was born, “one of the first things he got was a lot of Julia Donaldson swag – he was the first kid to get a Zog plushie, as well as lots of Stick Man and Gruffalo stuff. He’s well-kitted out with the merch.” 

But for Snaddon, Donaldson is more than just a supplier of night-time stories that are always a pleasure to read. “For our family, she’s changed our lives,” he admits. “I was working in advertising before this, and I didn’t have a clear pathway to making my own films, so I’m just so grateful that we as a family have been part of spreading the magic of her stories. She’s a national treasure in Britain and I’m in awe of her and Axel and the imprint they’ve made on the British psyche.”

The Snail and the Whale is the fifth in a string of BBC Christmas adaptations from Magic Light and Triggerfish, following the multi-award-winning Donaldson-Scheffler adaptations Stick Man (2015), The Highway Rat (2017) and Zog (2019), as well as the Oscar-nominated Roald Dahl adaptation Revolting Rhymes (2016). 

Before teaming up with Triggerfish, Magic Light also made three previous Donaldson-Scheffler adaptations: the Oscar-nominated The Gruffalo (2009), the BAFTA and Emmy winner Room On The Broom (2012), and Annecy winner The Gruffalo’s Child (2011), among other hits.  

All eight family classics are now streaming on Showmax. 

In conversation with multi-award-winning director Rea Moeti

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Screen Africa spoke to multi-award-winning director Rea Moeti, director and creator of Showmax’s latest Original, the soon to be released coming-of-age comedy series Woke in Progress

Tell us a bit about your background and how it has shaped you as a director?

I grew up as an only child, living with my grandparents. A lot of the time it was just the three of us, so I had to entertain myself. I think that pushed me to be a very imaginative child and explore myself creatively through art and craft, painting and drawing. I would call that the start of my storytelling journey.

As the creator and director of Showmax’s latest Original, Woke in Progress, can you tell us what inspired you to create this series?

I wanted to tell a story about two friends who are exploring the city together, inspired by my own experiences exploring Cape Town with a friend. I just thought of it in a different context: Maboneng in Johannesburg.

The series is set in the uber-trendy Maboneng. What informed this choice and what has it been like shooting in the area?

It’s this really colourful place where young people are together, being free and exploring themselves creatively. It’s chaotic filming in public, in the street, and trying to control the environment.

There have been a lot of spontaneous, unexpected moments with members of the public – but Maboneng has been very friendly and accommodating to us. We’ve had a very good time shooting there; it’s been fun.

What is it like working with Showmax?

Showmax have been a pleasure to work with. They have really pushed me and Emma [de Wet] as writers to be as creative as possible, to think outside the box, to think new and to think big. Working with Candice [Fangueiro], Shaamila [Fataar] and the team has been great. We’ve had such great chemistry as an all-female team.

It’s also been inspiring to work with their massive marketing team, which is also female-led. It’s been such a new, positive experience that’s been so encouraging and has got the best out of us.

Your previous works include the award-winning short film Mma Moeketsi and TV drama series Lockdown to name a few, but you have said that comedy is your first love. What do you love most about comedy?

I love comedy because it’s part of my childhood; that’s what I grew up watching. I watched a lot of television, especially animation, and it was always fun for me to be able to laugh and be entertained by all the ridiculous things animation is able to do, in slapstick ways but also in these magical realism ways.

I also liked watching comedy, especially characters like Steve Urkel and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and South African comedies like Sgudi ‘Snaysi and Suburban Bliss. There have been so many comedies that have shaped the South African landscape of entertainment and television and inspired me as a creative. I also like satire a lot; I like being able to make social commentary in funny ways.

Showmax and Netflix are investing a lot more in local content, why do you think that is?

A lot more South Africans have access to television than there are film and cinema goers, so it makes sense to invest in local content for the small screen because that is where a lot of South African consumers are. And it’s obvious that South Africa consumes local when it comes to television, so it would be a mistake for Showmax and Netflix not to recognise that.

In your opinion, what value do these digital platforms hold for emerging filmmakers and how can they best utilise these avenues?

The digital platforms are as emerging as the content creators are; they are newer than traditional television. To work with SABC and e.tv, you have to understand the system, which is very strict, with a lot of red tape in terms of how to become a vendor and make content there. Whereas with Showmax, there’s more fluidity and less red tape.

What in your opinion is the key to creating a successful television show in South Africa?

This is my first time as a creator and showrunner seeing the project all the way through from conception to post. I’m learning as I go, so I’ll only be able to say what the key is in retrospect.

One key I can say right now is people management. You need to be able to carry the vision through to the end, with flexibility at times, because you write something on the page and it’s not always what you see on the day, so you need to be flexible and work with what you have so you still have something successful when you’re done.

What next for Rea Moeti?

I’m making a feature film, so look out for that.

When you’re not on set, you are…?

I’ll find out in 2020 when I have more time off-set. I’ve been on set back-to-back for so long, and when I’m not on set I’ve been writing, trying to finish my feature film. For the past four years, I have been working myself to the bone and trying to take all the opportunities ahead of me; I’m really not giving myself as much time to rest as I’d like to, or to be as social as I used to be.

Lockdown season 5 is now shooting in Johannesburg

Season 5 of Lockdown, South Africa’s favourite prison drama, started production last week in Johannesburg, where it’s mostly shooting at Constitution Hill, the historic prison complex where the likes of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Albertina Sisulu served time. 

Every season of Lockdown introduces a new star. This time it’s Sophie Lichaba, aka Sophie Ndaba, who became a household name in South Africa during her two-decade-long starring role as the feisty receptionist Queen Moroka in the SABC1 soapie Generations. 

The multi-award-winning actress joins one of the most impressive casts on South African television: at the SAFTAs this year, four of the six Drama acting nominations for women went to Lockdown cast members: Dawn Thandeka King won Best Actress as Mazet, ahead of her co-star Zola Nombona as Monde (and International Emmy nominee Thuso Mbedu), while Lorcia Cooper won Best Supporting Actress as Tyson, ahead of her co-star Pamela Nomvete as Governor Deborah Banda. 

Since losing a noticeable amount of weight last year due to diabetes, Sophie’s been reported dead on social media repeatedly, most recently as she started filming Lockdown last week. 

The SAFTA winner is unfazed by the fake news, saying, “I’m just excited to be tackling such a challenging role on one of the biggest shows in the country.”

Every episode of Lockdown has trended on Twitter, so Sophie’s new character on the groundbreaking series will give social media something better to talk about on 31 January 2020, when Season 5 will premiere, only on Showmax. 

“We haven’t seen Sophie in a while on South African television,” says Lockdown creator Mandla N, who is still directing every episode of the hit show. “But you could have said the same about Lorcia or Pamela when we cast them, and they’ve both reclaimed their places among the biggest stars in South Africa.” 

Notorious for its cliffhangers, plot twists and emotional rollercoasters, Lockdown takes viewers into the cells and offices of Thabazimbi Women’s Correctional Facility. 

As Season 5 picks up, Deborah is under pressure from The Department of Correctional Services, after one death too many at the prison. Arch-rivals Mazet and Tyson are still running the prison yard together, for now.  And Monde is trying to make things right with Vicky (Lauren Jenae), while worrying about her sister Katlego (Natasha Thahane), who’s been transferred to Kgotsong Asylum. 

SAFTA winners Linda Sebezo and Nomsa Buthelezi are also back as fan favourites Maki and Slenda, while the multi-award-winning Patricia Boyer returns as the hilarious but dangerous Sue. 

Produced by Black Brain Pictures, Lockdown was the most awarded drama at this year’s SAFTAs, taking home five awards, including Best Drama.

Lockdown is moving from Mzansi Magic, so binge-watch Season 5, only on Showmax, on 31 January 2020. In the meantime, you can catch up on the first four seasons here. 

New Showmax Original comedy starts shooting in Maboneng

Woke In Progress, Showmax’s second Original scripted comedy, is now shooting in Johannesburg. 

The fish-out-of-water comedy is set at The Maboneng Marble, where two broke, tryna-be-woke twenty-somethings become unlikely roommates. Having just found out she’s adopted, 22-year-old Martie has come to Joburg searching for her birth parents; 25-year-old Amandla is trying to reconnect with the motherland after decades of following her political elite father between international posts.

Think 2 Broke Girls meets Dear White People, or Broad City meets Insecure, or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt meets Ayeye

Woke In Progress is created by 30-year-old showrunner Rea Moeti, who has rapidly made a name for herself since graduating from her Masters at The National Film and Television School in the UK – named one of The Top 15 International Film Schools by The Hollywood Reporter last year.  

Moeti’s Marikana-themed short film, Mma Moeketsi, won Best African Short Film at Cape Town, Jozi, and Zanzibar International Film Festivals, and is currently up for an Africa Movie Academy Award. She was also head writer on the first two seasons of Lockdown, winning the SAFTA for Best Drama Writer. But comedy is Moeti’s first love: she was head writer on SAFTA-winning sitcoms like Ses’Top La and Abo Mzala, as well as a director on the SAFTA-nominated Thandeka’s Diary.

In 2017, when Moeti first pitched Woke In Progress to Showmax, Vogue had just proclaimed Maboneng “the coolest neighbourhood in Johannesburg,” while last year Forbes included the cultural hub in its roundup of “The 12 Coolest Neighbourhoods Around The World.” 

“Our first two scripted Originals – Tali’s Wedding Diary and The Girl From St Agnes – both broke records as the most watched shows on Showmax ever, so we know our audience is hungry for quality South African series,” says Candice Fangueiro, head of content at Multichoice’s Connected Video, which houses Showmax and DSTV Now. “We think they’re going to love laughing with Maboneng’s Afropunk crowd just as much as they did with Talibabes in Sea Point in Tali’s Wedding Diary.” 

Newcomer Laura Lee Mostert plays Martie. She spent 2018 studying in Los Angeles: method acting at Lee Strasberg Institute, whose alumni include Marilyn Monroe and Uma Thurman, and improv at The Groundlings Theatre, whose alumni include Melissa McCarthy and Will Ferrell. 

Zandile Lujabe, best known as Palesa in Isidingo and Mpho Pop’s love interest Ziyanda in Ayeye, plays Amandla. Like Mostert, Lujabe also studied acting internationally, at New York Film Academy, whose alumni include Issa Rae. 

Other key cast include Kiroshan Naidoo, winner of the 2016 Fleur du Cap for Most Promising Student, as Christo, a paranoid misanthrope programmer who shares the flat with Martie and Amandla; Lebogang Tlokana (aka The Funny Chef) as the over-entrepreneurial apartment manager, Lerato; Ebenhaezer Dibakwane, the 2016 Comics Choice Newcomer and 2017 Intermediate Award winner as her brother Puma, the receptionist/artist; and SAFTA nominee Yule Masiteng (aka Jomo Zungu in Scandal!) as the homeless sage who camps outside The Maboneng Marble. 

They’re joined by a support cast of hoteps, Tinder-fodder, taxi-blessers, and tour guides.  

“Working on Lockdown was evidence for me that MultiChoice is offering shows that are becoming more and more daring, and that our audience is ready,” says Moeti. “When I first pitched Woke in Progress to Showmax, it was tamer than it is now, because I thought that was what South African platforms wanted. But Showmax has pushed it to go further. So it’s because of Showmax that the girls are as liberated as they are now.” 

Moeti co-created Woke in Progress with Emma Lungiswa De Wet, one of the writers on the hit animation Munki and Trunk, which has two million YouTube subscribers. “In a way she’s Martie to my Amandla,” jokes Moeti. 

They later brought on Karabo Lediga, who won 2019 SAFTAs for both drama (Emoyeni) and comedy (Thuli no Thulani) writing, and Moeti’s fellow National Film and Television School MA graduate Sipho Sondiyazi. 

Tali’s Wedding Diary dominated the comedy category at this year’s SAFTAs, taking home five awards, including Best Comedy and Best Actress (Julia Anastasopoulos), so Woke In Progress has a lot to live up to. You’ll be able to make up your own mind when the edgy comedy premieres on Showmax on 12 December 2019. 

In conversation with award-winning director Nare Mokgoto

Screen Africa spoke to visual artist and director Nare Mokgotho…

Tell us a bit about your background and how it has shaped you as a director?

I studied fine art and, after art school, started working in advertising as a copywriter. After a few years at places like J. Walter Thompson, Grey and Saatchi & Saatchi, I traded agency life for a position as a creative researcher at Velocity Films under Peter Carr, who remains my executive producer at MassÏf. In research I learned from some of the best directors in the country, but also discovered what kind of work resonated with me.

Tell us about your journey from copywriter to director? Was directing always the goal?

Directing wasn’t necessarily a goal, but it was certainly a dream. I think being on commercial sets while I was a copywriter made it more real, and I became convinced that directing was something I wanted to pursue. As I mentioned, I spent a number of years as a researcher, which were invaluable for my trajectory.

What kind of content do you enjoy creating and why?

I really enjoy conceptually-driven work, particularly stories that lend themselves to subtlety and require some level of nuance. I always remember the substance of films, commercials, literature and artworks more than I might the formal properties. Techniques can change so quickly, but I think ideas and stories are far more constant and are always on trend.

What are some of your personal favourite projects that you have worked on?

I don’t know if I can narrow them down. They’ve all been beneficial in some way, particularly the most challenging ones.

You took home two awards – for Showmax’s “Zero Bucks Given” and Rapid Lion’s “Wreaths” – at the recent YDA, congratulations! What does the win mean for you as a director?

Historically, the YDA has been good at foregrounding the careers of young directors. The YDA has often helped set up young directors for a career in the industry by affording them greater visibility. For me, the wins mean that people in the industry have a greater sense of the kinds of things I gravitate towards, like performance-driven storytelling injected with subtle inflections of humour.

What, in your opinion, makes an award-winning and successful brand film?

There’s little substitute for a good, simple idea well communicated, or a great story well told. These stay with audiences more than anything else.

Apart from directing, you are a visual artist. Can you tell us more about your work as a visual artist?

I’ve been working as part of a collaborative artist duo for the past 10 years. Broadly speaking, our practice uses everyday black urban experience as a primary departure point. This is a way for us to think through popular education spaces, collaborative infrastructures, oral histories, knowledge dissemination systems and the kinds of things that might be considered worthy of intellectual consideration.

What are you currently working on?

A few projects that have me excited. I’m presently pitching on a major car brand commercial and on another great comedy spot for a top retail brand.

Any plans for a feature film in the future?

Yes, but not in the immediate future. You could say I’m currently laying the foundations and flirting with some ideas.

If you weren’t a filmmaker, you would be?

A visual artist. I’m fortunate because I get to do both alongside one another.  

Five reasons to watch Kanarie

Kanarie, Schalk Bezuidenhout’s breakout movie, is now streaming first on Showmax in South Africa.

Schalk stars as Johan Niemand, a fashion-loving gay teen in small-town South Africa in 1985, a time of apartheid, religious conservatism and war, an era when not even his idol Boy George had dared to come out publicly as gay yet.

When Johan is called up to serve his compulsory two-year military training, he escapes the border war by joining The South African Defence Force Church Choir and Concert Group, known as Die Kanaries (The Canaries), where he discovers his true self through hardship, camaraderie, first love and the liberating freedom of music.

If you missed Kanarie at the cinema – and it was only the 10th most popular South African movie at the box office last year, so clearly most of us did – here are five reasons not to sleep on one of the most fun but moving South African films yet:

#1. Schalk Bezuidenhout is one of our favourite comedians, but might be an even better actor
Schalk is one of South Africa’s top comedians: the winner of two Comics’ Choice Awards, described by Skhumba recently as “the one white comedian loved by black people.”

But in Trippin With Skhumba earlier this year, Schalk confessed that he wanted to be an actor before he thought of being a comedian.

On the basis of his performance in Kanarie, acting might still be his true calling, as much as we hope we still get to laugh with him often on stage. The Los Angeles Times compared him to the legendary Buster Keaton while praising his “clear talent for drama” and the way he “superbly juggles Johan’s many moods and modes,” while FilmThreat raved about his “confident, raw performance.”

Schalk earned a 2019 South African Film and Television Award nomination for this role and won Best Supporting Actor last year as Danny in Hotel, but we’re pretty sure he’s just getting started.

Just be warned: he’s missing his trademark knitted jerseys, moustache and wild hair in Kanarie, so you might not recognise him immediately in the movie, but just look out for the guy in the wedding dress in the opening scene…

#2. Germandt Geldenhuys is hilarious, and can seriously sing
Schalk is ably supported by the rest of the cast, particularly Hannes Otto as his love interest, Wolfgang, and Germandt Geldenhuys as the irrepressible Ludolf, in a hilarious performance that won Best Supporting Actor at Silwerskerm and earned a SAFTA nomination.

As FilmThreat put it, “Ludolf’s happy to see anyone and loves to chat with them about whatever. While it sounds like it may be annoying, Geldenhuys finds the right balance of pluck and genuine sympathy to make the character work.”

Germandt won the 2017 Huisgenoot Tempo For Actor of the Year: Soap Operas for his role as Louis Koster in Binnelanders; earned a Fleur Du Cap nomination for Sweeney Todd; and won the Grand Champion Award for singing at The World Performing Championships, which will surprise no one who hears him sing in Kanarie.

#3. Christiaan Olwagen is a director to watch

After being named Standard Bank Young Artist Of The Year for Theatre in 2015, Christiaan Olwagen switched his focus to cinema, writing and directing three acclaimed Afrikaans films in three years: 2016’s Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie, 2018’s Chekhov adaptation Die Seemeeu, and Kanarie, with a fourth, Poppie Nongena, premiering at kykNET’s Silwerskermfees this month.

Kanarie is an impressive mix of genres – a coming-of-age, coming out, musical love story war film – that is sometimes funny, sometimes heart-warming, and occasionally tragic, and that moves from raw reality to music-video-style flights of fancy and back again seamlessly. It’s an incredible balancing act but one that Christiaan makes look easy. While he may not be famous outside the Afrikaans community yet, he’s still in his early 30s and we’d put money on that changing soon… As BusinessDay put it, he’s “streets ahead of other directors.”

#4. Kanarie is inspired by a true story

In Kanarie, Schalk and the rest of the cast are helped by what The Los Angeles Times described as “a first-rate script,” which director Christiaan Olwagen co-wrote with musical director Charl-Johan Lingenfelder, based on Charl’s own experiences in the army choir.

As Charl told BizCommunity, “I believe one of the strengths of the film is the fact that it is a very personal story and that it is true. People are very surprised when they find out that approximately 95% of it is factual. It’s not often you get to watch a film of this nature where the narrative is so close to what really happened. We didn’t have to invent a whole lot – it was all just ready to be told.”

#5. Kanarie is a funny, moving tale about standing out, even when you just want to fit in
Sometimes we sell things short when we pitch them as good South African films. Kanarie is a good film. Period.

It has a 100% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes; a 7.9 rating on IMDB; and has won 15 awards around the world. As The Los Angeles Times put it, “Kanarie ably hits the high notes… rich, poignant and finely observed… “ Or as The Hollywood Reporter said, while predicting an international theatrical run, Kanarie is “a winning combination of thoughtfulness and exuberance.” Similarly, Indiewire picked it as one of seven films to watch at Outfest, North America’s premier LGBTI festival, calling it a “surprisingly fun” musical about “the effects of nationalism on a tender soul, and the bond of brotherhood among misfits.”

So whether or not you’re gay, or Afrikaans, or want to support proudly South African products, Kanarie is the film for you, next time you’re in the mood for an uplifting musical love story about finding individuality in a world of oppression and uniformity. Watch it first on Showmax here. 

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