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In conversation with director Cindy Lee

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Star Films director Cindy Lee has, over the years, brought South African audiences some of their most-loved commercials. Most recently, she co-directed Showmax’s first original drama series, The Girl From St Agnes. The daughter of legendary casting director Moonyeenn Lee, Cindy chatted to Screen Africa about her love of storytelling…

WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW HAS IT SHAPED YOU AS A DIRECTOR?

Once upon a time – a long, long time ago – I started out as a copywriter at Hunt Lascaris. For 12 years I wrote commercials and slowly became that creative, the one whom directors hate, the one who sits right on top of them and tells them how they should be doing their job. The one who has to be kindly removed by a few words from the producer. When I realised that I wasn’t going to be kindly removed, I decided that I may as well try and direct myself.

WAS A CAREER IN TELEVISION/FILM PRODUCTION ALWAYS THE PLAN?

No, not in the beginning. Writing was always the plan. But I’m a television junkie. I love a good drama, a good mystery.  And slowly I realised that telling a story in 30 seconds just wasn’t going to satisfy my need for drama. I don’t do anything in small measures.

WHAT KIND OF CONTENT DO YOU ENJOY CREATING AND WHY?

I love a good story that moves people. A story that gives us hope, that makes us want to stand up and do something. That makes us talk and debate and question. I love stories about people who defy the odds and come out triumphant. I love sad stories with happy endings. It’s hard to get my hands on these kind of commercial boards. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of them out there.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE COMMERCIAL PROJECTS THAT YOU HAVE WORKED ON?

I directed a PSA commercial for Orange Babies that I really loved. It was beautiful, raw, compelling, heart-breaking and had an important message behind it – one that could make a difference to the lives of hundreds of people. I also love a commercial I directed for Capfin. It was about real people and how a small loan can change the course of their lives. I recently directed a commercial for Coke for the FIFA World Cup that was about a young boy who was desperate to find his final sticker for his Nigerian Super Eagles team collection. Again, it was moving and uplifting and made you warm all over.

APART FROM DIRECTING COMMERCIALS, YOU WERE THE SOCIAL MEDIA DIRECTOR ON THE CRITICALLY-ACCLAIMED TV SERIES BLACK MIRROR – WHAT EXACTLY DID THAT ENTAIL?

Joe Wright directed the episode entitled Nose Dive which was all about social media. There was a lot of social media involved in the story, like the character’s Facebook and Instagram pages, social media videos, etc., and they needed someone to conceptualise the pages and videos for the characters and then direct them. So not only did I get to work with Joe Wright, but I also got to work with Alice Eve, Bryce Dallas Howard, Alan Ritchson and Cherry Jones. And when I wasn’t working, I was on set watching these masters in action.

YOU HAVE RECENTLY CO-DIRECTED YOUR FIRST SERIES, THE GIRL FROM ST AGNES. WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR YOU IN MAKING THE TRANSITION FROM COMMERCIALS TO TV?

Actually, it’s my second series. I also directed three episodes of Sober Companion a couple of years ago. The biggest challenge has been time. There just isn’t enough of it. We are really spoilt with commercials. We get time to treat, time to craft, time for pre-prod, time to craft, time for post, time to craft. If I need four edit approvals to get it right, I get four edit approvals. Television in South Africa is very different. It’s a fledgling industry and hasn’t been mined yet. Because of that, budgets are tight, so we have to shoot very quickly – which means not enough time for pre-production, shooting or post-production. So less time to craft. But I feel that it’s changing. This production had more time than the last one. And Showmax knows what they’re doing and keeps pushing to get the best out of you. But it has taught me to think quicker, act quicker, think on my feet more – especially on set. I’m very proud of this show. I believe that even with time against us, we have produced a fantastic show that everyone will be talking about.

WHAT DREW YOU TO THE GIRL FROM ST AGNES?

First of all, it was a Showmax production so I was excited to do a local drama with them. I was also excited to work with Harriet Gavshon, the producer from Quizzical Pictures. Not only was the show close to her heart, but I knew I would learn a lot from working with her. So I knew that this time round, I would be in good hands. And then there was the script, which I thought was great. It had me from the moment I started reading it. I couldn’t wait to find out who did it. The scripts couldn’t come fast enough and that’s a good sign. The show doesn’t pull any punches. For once, it’s not your typical South African cookie-cutter content. It’s not afraid to discuss anything, to broach any subject. The themes are diverse, and the characters are damaged. In other words, they’re real. We have such talented actors and actresses in this country and I was excited to work with them on a project that lasted more than 30 seconds.

WHAT VALUE DO VOD & SVOD PLATFORMS, LIKE SHOWMAX, HOLD FOR THE AFRICAN FILM INDUSTRY AND EMERGING FILMMAKERS IN PARTICULAR?

I think it’s a very exciting time for the African film and television industry. Audiences can now dictate what they want to watch and are able to customise their viewing preferences and hopefully that is skewed towards local stories. Because the average attention span is down to eight seconds, we have to be able to produce material that is interesting enough to keep the audience hooked. And we need to adapt as we go. Because of the demand, emerging filmmakers will have more opportunities to tell their stories. But for [these platforms] to be as successful as [they are] in the rest of the world, we have to improve our internet speeds and get our data costs down.

WITH CONSUMERS OF ALL AGES FAVOURING BINGE-WATCHING ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS, WHERE DO YOU THINK THAT LEAVES TRADITIONAL BROADCAST MEDIA CHANNELS?

I don’t believe they’re in trouble just yet – only because of the debilitating data costs of digital streaming.  But audiences are tired of paying for things they don’t want to watch. And they don’t want to wait a whole week to watch the next episode. And they want to be able to watch whatever they want, when they want. So unless traditional broadcasters adapt and adapt quickly, by making their material more interesting, less regulated and more local – and by making their content on-demand, on all devices – they will soon be in trouble.

ANY PLANS TO DIRECT A FEATURE FILM IN THE NEAR FUTURE?

I would love to. I just need to find, or write, the story I want to tell. It will have to be something close to my heart. That kind of commitment isn’t a job, it’s a love affair. I have realised that the amount of time and energy that goes into doing long-form work means that you have to love what you’re doing, and want to tell that story with every ounce of your being or else you’ll never do it properly. It may even be the death of you.

WHAT NEXT FOR CINDY LEE THE DIRECTOR?

I would love to do more television. Especially with more money. More time. But in the meantime, I’m back to directing commercials. I have started an initiative called Shadow Us, which gives emerging female filmmakers the opportunity to shadow me, or anyone on the Star Films team, on a commercial I am directing. They shadow us from the second we go into production, right through to when we hand over final material. It’s a fantastic opportunity for women wanting to get into the industry. I want to get other directors to follow suit so that we can give more women more opportunities. The South African industry is still very male-dominated. And, as they say, #TimesUp.

IF YOU WEREN’T A FILMMAKER, YOU WOULD BE?

Very depressed.

6 things to know about Mashabela Galane, who stars with Skhumba in Showmax’s new Original

The first episode of Showmax’s third Original, Trippin With Skhumba, premiered on Thursday, 28 February 2019, building on the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the most nominated comedy at this weekend’s South African Film and Television Awards, and The Girl From St Agnes, which had more launch day views than any series on Showmax ever.

In the first episode of Trippin With Skhumba, the 2018 DStv Viewers’ Choice Award: Favourite Comedian winner and 2017 Comics’ Choice Comic of the Year hit the road in a CaraCara with Mashabela Galane for a hilarious, heart-breaking and inspiring visit to the Sepedi comedian’s hometown: Moletjie village in Limpopo.

Here are six things you should know about Mashabela:

#1. He’s a comedian from a village with no comedy clubs

It’s hard to be what you can’t see,  so one of the first questions Skhumba asks Mashabela is, “How did you come across comedy, because I can tell you now, there’s no comedy club here?”

Mashabela credits Thobela FM’s Ben Maraka. “He used to do skits on radio, way back in the day,” says Mashabela. “He had a cassette of jokes in Sepedi – and I thought I could do it too. But he didn’t last because he was bewitched…”

#2. Herding cows made Mashabela a better comedian

Mashabela spent much of his childhood on his dad’s tractor (which features prominently in the episode) or herding cows. “It wasn’t a piece of cake to look after those things,” says Mashabela. “You let them roam but if you can’t find them, you don’t go home. That was the rule. If you can’t find the cows, you have to stay there and look for them until you find them.”

He thinks herding cows has helped his career. “If I can’t come up with any jokes, I don’t go on stage without a punchline,” says Mashabela. “But some people go on and embarrass themselves without punchlines. That’s how I can tell they never herded cows.“

#3. Mashabela and Skhumba go way back – to when vernacular comedy was a hard-sell

Skhumba and Mashabela have known each other for at least a decade. “He had long-ass dreads back then,” Skhumba remembers. They met when they were both known as “many more”.

“We were called ‘many more’ on a lineup with Chris Mapane, Eugene Khoza, Kedibone Mulaudzi, and ‘many more,’” says Skhumba.

Vernacular comedy was a much harder sell in those days. ”They always said you and I wouldn’t make it because we didn’t sound a certain way,” Skhumba tells Mashabela in the episode. “And our comedy didn’t appeal to certain people.”

“We’ve come a long way,” says Mashabela. “Back in the day it wasn’t easy. You’d perform for R50 or a six-pack of Black Label. I used to walk from Carlton Centre to Melville and perform for a six-pack of Black Label [at Underground]…”

#4. Mashabela’s dad might be a bigger fan of Skhumba than his son
Mashabela’s father might have been more excited to see Skhumba than Mashabela – he certainly quoted more of his shows. “I thought my dad was my biggest fan,” says Mashabela. “But since we got here, he hasn’t mentioned a single joke of mine but he knows Skhumba’s jokes.“

Mashabela’s mother doesn’t even try deny it. “He follows Skhumba more than you,” she admits.

#5. Mashabela is one of South Africa’s best comedians

“I know the country loves him,” says Skhumba. “He’s one of the best guys; he can easily fill up any venue.”

Want proof? Mashabela won the Comics’ Choice Native Tongue Award in 2016, has over 300 000 followers on social media, and is the brains behind popular stand-up events like Comedy Under The Sun and Rock My Mother Tongue.

#6. Mashabela is a man of many talents
More than just a comedian, Mashabela is a South African Music Awards nominee for best kwaito album and the inventor of Rare Moringa Gin, made by Old Packhouse Distillery, which won Double Gold at  the 2018 Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Awards.

In Trippin With Skhumba, Mashabela takes Skhumba to the distillery, in a Moringa plantation in Magoebaskloof. Skhumba teases his friend that the first time Mashabela manufactured the Moringa gin, “it was like balsamic vinegar and I had no idea what you were doing.”

“We didn’t know,” Mashabela admits. “All I knew was stand up comedy.” He says the idea came to him when he was making Moringa juice the Pedi way in Limpopo. “When I was driving back to Jozi on the N1, it started to ferment and turn into alcohol. That’s when I thought of manufacturing alcohol. From there I tried out a beer and then the gin/vinegar story… I got the hang of it slowly but surely… I feel very proud; I still can’t believe it.”

Trippin With Skhumba, Showmax’s first vernacular Original and first Original reality series, first and only on the platform from Thursday, 28 February 2019, with new episodes weekly. In the next episode, 2018 Native Tongue winner Siya Seya will take Skhumba home to Walmer Township in Port Elizabeth, to explore more places that won’t make any tourism brochures and stories that would be edited out of any authorised biographies.

Subsequent episodes will focus on Celeste Ntuli (Empangeni, KwaZulu-Natal), who was the most nominated comedian with Skhumba going into the 2018 Comics’ Choice Awards; 2017 Native Tongue winner  Salesman (Pretoria); 2016 Comic of the Year winner Tumi Morake (Bloemfontein); and 2015 Intermediate winner Schalk Bezuidenhout (Kempton Park, Gauteng). The first season will end with an hour-long stand-up special, featuring Skhumba and his guests, as well as one new comedian from each hometown visited.

Trippin With Skhumba is directed by Vincent Moloi, who helmed the 2018 Best Drama SAFTA winner Tjovitjo and also took home Best Documentary Director last year for Skulls of My People. The series is being produced for Showmax by Diprente (the production company behind this year’s box office hit Matwetwe; the Netflix film Catching Feelings; and the International Emmy nominated Late Nite News With Loyiso Gola), which is co-owned by 2018 Comics’ Choice Comic’s Pen winner Kagiso Lediga and is also producing Netflix’s first African Original series Queen Sono.

 

Corporate social investment rarely delivers, right? These Isibaya and Isithembiso SAFTA nominees would argue otherwise

Corporate social investment programmes are often treated with a healthy dose of cynicism. It’s the kind of thing that looks good in a company’s annual report, but how often do these schemes deliver real-world benefits? The recent announcement of the SAFTA nominations shows in the entertainment industry at least, corporate social investment does indeed have a role to play.

Mbali Zulu and Charleen Ntsane are both writers on popular TV shows, and both were members of teams nominated for South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA). They’ve also got another thing in common – both are graduates of a corporate-sponsored development programme. Mbali’s and Charleen’s stories are interesting case studies into how corporate social investment (CSI) can genuinely help individuals and at the same time pay dividends to the companies that sponsor them.

Charleen Ntsane has been a core member of the youth telenovela Isithembiso writing team since the show began in 2017. Prior to her storyliner and scriptwriting position at the film and television production company Bomb Shelter, Charleen took part in MultiChoice’s M-Net Magic in Motion Academy.

The Academy, which has been running since 2015, gives participants experience in key areas of TV and film creation including commissioning, scriptwriting, concept creation, producing, directing, cinematography, sound, art direction, editing, post-production and broadcasting.

Talking about what the Academy did for her, Charleen said: “The Magic in Motion Academy seeks out people who’ve studied in the TV and film field but haven’t yet got a full time job in the industry. They gave me exactly what I needed – actual solid working experience – to bridge the gap between studying and employment. I’m over the moon that just a year afterwards I’m part of a team nominated for a SAFTA for best achievement in scriptwriting.”

Mbali Zulu has a similar story. After leaving the Academy, she also went to work for Bomb Shelter as a storyliner and scriptwriter, in this case for Isibaya.

“In my first year writing on Isibaya, I was nominated for a SAFTA.  It was a surreal and unexpected experience.  But it let me know that I was on the right track in my career. To get this second nomination for my contributions in the writing room – I feel so grateful.  So so so grateful. So many creatives are struggling to get into the industry. If it were not for the Magic In Motion Academy, I know for certain that I wouldn’t be where I am today.

After leaving the Academy, Mbali has worked on eight films, two of which are currently in post-production. She was also part of a team which successfully pitched for a 13-part series that’s due to air soon on Mzansi Magic.

Speaking about why they decided to start the Magic in Motion Academy, MultiChoice CEO for General Entertainment Yolisa Phahle said:

“The best possible world for CSI is where doing something good for society intersects with helping your own industry – and by supporting promising TV and film students in the transition to meaningful employment we’re doing both. Africa has incredible TV and film talent and I’m a firm believer that there’s world-wide demand for well-told African stories.  There’s no question that I get a kick from seeing our graduates up for awards, but I’m probably even more excited that the pool of skilled professionals producing original African content is even larger than before thanks to the Academy.”

To date, more than 1200 episodes of Isibaya and more than 400 episodes of Isithembiso have been filmed. They are available to stream on www.showmax.com.

The SAFTA awards ceremony takes place on 2 March. MultiChoice was the most-nominated company with its productions receiving more than 150 nominations.

Debut Showmax Original is the most nominated comedy at the SAFTAs

The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. “It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Since its launch in 2015, Showmax has become one of South Africa’s favourite streaming services. Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has a whopping 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees already scheduled for the coming months.

Yolisa Phahle from MultiChoice talks about those 150+ SAFTA nominations

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

When the 2019 South African Film and Television Awards nominations were announced, MultiChoice walked away with the most nominated shows in all major categories: feature film, TV comedy, TV drama, soap, and telenovela. MultiChoice was also the most nominated broadcaster overall with more than 150 nominations.

Yolisa Phahle, CEO for General Entertainment at MultiChoice answered some questions about how MultiChoice approaches original content:

Are these nominations a big deal for MultiChoice? How did you react?

This is a fascinating time to be in TV – we talk of ‘peak TV’ thanks to the flood of international content – there are more new shows out there than can possibly be watched. On top of that video-on-demand services are going direct to consumers, meaning broadcasters have more competition. For MultiChoice this means working even harder as an African storyteller to earn viewing time with our customers. So yes, these nominations are absolutely a big deal – we’ve invested heavily in local content and it really does mean something to have that recognised. How did I react? Well, the nominations came out on a Friday, so a quick glass of fizz was in order. We’ll also be having a party to celebrate with all of the amazing producers who’ve worked with us.

How important is owned local content to MultiChoice vs buying international content? Do you see it as a differentiator vs Netflix?

Owned local content is a huge differentiator. People care about their stories, their language, and the reality of the lives they live and aspire to live: African stories told in an authentic voice. Hollywood shows most definitely have their place but equally if not more important are relevant stories that speak to people’s own experiences. We have a duty to tell our stories not only because people want to see them but also because we have an industry that we believe in and want to grow.

Do you see the mix of originals vs international content changing in the future?

There’s no question that you’ll be seeing a greater volume of originals coming from MultiChoice. It’s a mind-shift from saying we aggregate the content made by others to saying we’re the ones telling Africa’s stories.

How much autonomy do the various units have when creating their own content – is it strongly centrally driven or highly decentralised? What role does MultiChoice play?

Africa is a diverse continent, so when it comes to telling Africa’s stories we need to reflect this. The best way we’ve found to do that is give our various production teams as much autonomy as possible. MultiChoice’s role is primarily to provide advice and support, and secondarily to coordinate and ensure quality.

You’ve branded Showmax-owned content as Showmax Originals but you don’t do that for other entities like 1Magic or kykNET – why is that?

Great question! It’s something we’ve been asking ourselves. MultiChoice has been producing in effect MultiChoice Originals for years, but we never branded it that way. It’s something we’re looking at now. We invest billions supporting local production – we’re in fact the leading producer of pan-African content – and we need to do a better job highlighting that work.

Yolisa was appointed as CEO of General Entertainment for the MultiChoice Group in late 2017. Prior to that she was the CEO of M-Net.

Showmax confirms third Original: Trippin’ With Skhumba

Filming is underway on Showmax’s first travel show, Trippin’ With Skhumba. In each 30-minute episode, the Comic’s Choice Comic of the Year 2017 will get down and dirty with a fellow South African comedian in their hometown, exploring places that won’t make any tourism brochures and stories that would be edited out of any authorised biographies.

“As much as we love South African comedians, we are only exposed to what they do on stage as opposed to their backgrounds,” says Skhumba. “So on Trippin’ With Skhumba, I wanted to dig deeper into their lives and where they come from – far more than what I could ever get out of them by doing a normal interview, like on my radio show on Kaya FM.”

The first season’s guests are Celeste Ntuli (Empangeni, KwaZulu-Natal), who was the most-nominated comedian, along with Skhumba, going into the 2018 Comic’s Choice Awards; the last three Native Tongue winners, Siya Seya (Walmer Township, Port Elizabeth), Salesman (Pretoria) and Mashabela Galane (Moletjie, Limpopo); 2016 Comic of the Year winner Tumi Morake (Bloemfontein); and 2015 Intermediate winner Schalk Bezuidenhout (Kempton Park, Gauteng).

Trippin With Skhumba is flipping funny,” says director Vincent Moloi, who helmed the 2018 Best Drama SAFTA winner Tjovitjo, and also took home Best Documentary Director last year for Skulls of My People. “It’s real. It represents, to me, the ultimate exploration of South Africa’s humour in a very honest and truthful way. It has an uncompromisingly authentic texture. Be ready to laugh at our misfortunes and our greatness.”

The first season will end with an hour-long stand-up special, featuring Skhumba and his guests, as well as one new comedian from each hometown visited.

Trippin’ With Skhumba will be the third Showmax Original, building on the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary (2017) and The Girl From St Agnes (2019), which both set the record for the most first-day unique views of any show on the platform.

“Showmax is rapidly becoming the home of South African comedy, with the roasts of AKA (coming soon), Somizi and Kenny Kunene; Trevor Noah Presents NationWild; and stand-up specials from the likes of Barry Hilton and David Kau,” says Candice Fangueiro, head of content at Showmax. “You loved Tali and we’re going to do everything we can to keep you bingeing the local talent out there, like Skhumba.”

Trippin’ With Skhumba is being produced for Showmax by Diprente, which is co-owned by 2018 Comics’ Pen winner Kagiso Lediga and is also producing Netflix’s first original African series, Queen Sono.

Trippin’ With Skhumba will be coming first and only to Showmax from 28 February 2019, with new episodes every Thursday.

Source: Showmax Press

New Showmax Original breaks all-time viewing record

The Girl From St Agnes, the first Showmax Original drama, broke an important record on its debut on 31 January. The number of unique viewers in the first 24 hours exceeded that of the previous record-holder, the Showmax Original comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary. In addition, the number of views was more than double that of the most popular Hollywood series on its debut.

Speaking about this, Candice Fangueiro, head of Content for the Connected Video division of MultiChoice, which houses Showmax, said: “We’re over the moon. This shows without a shadow of a doubt that local content is a major differentiator, and it also shows that African productions can not only hold their own against the best in the world but they can actually come out on top.”

In The Girl From St Agnes, a popular student is found dead at a prestigious all-girls boarding school in the Midlands. The police are quick to declare the death of Lexi Summerveld (newcomer Jane de Wet) a tragic accident, but drama teacher Kate Ballard (Paris Fashion Week and Vogue model Nina Milner, who also starred in Troy: Fall Of A City) doesn’t believe it. The more she investigates, the more Kate realises that she didn’t really know Lexi or the school at all. Behind the imposing walls of St Agnes, Lexi’s killer won’t be the only person exposed…

Showmax has a strong catalogue of Hollywood and UK series and movies, including exclusive hit shows from major studios that aren’t available anywhere else. These ‘first and only’ shows are a key part of the appeal of the service and drive major viewing volumes. Local content including favourites from Mzansi Magic and kykNET is the second pillar of Showmax’s service and what sets it apart from others. Showmax Originals are set to become the third pillar of the service, with two successful Originals already released and more in the pipeline for later this year.

Going into more detail on viewing patterns for The Girl from St Agnes, Fangueiro said: “We’d, of course, hoped that The Girl from St Agnes would get loads of views, but what we didn’t expect was how many people have already watched the entire series. That’s eight one-hour episodes in less than 24 hours – a serious testament to how binge-worthy the show is.”

The Girl From St Agnes stars Milner, de Wet, Tyrone Keogh (24 Hours To Live) in his first local role since being named SA’s sexiest actor during his time on The Wild; Serenity and District 9  actor Robert Hobbs; and Monte Carlo Best Actor finalist Graham Hopkins (The Lab). They’re supported by internationally recognised South African talent like Tessa Jubber (Wallander), former Olympic swimmer Karl Thaning (Dredd), and Shamilla Miller (Troy: Fall Of A City); hot new talent like Jane de Wet, Paige Bonnin and 2018 Fleur Du Cap Best Student nominee Tristan de Beer; and local favourites like Strictly Come Dancing winner Zakeeya Patel (Isidingo), Makgotso M (Is’Thunzi), Celeste Khumalo (The Queen), and Jocelyn Broderick (Getroud Met Rugby: Die Sepie).

2018 SAFTA winner Catharine Cooke and 2017 SAFTA nominee Cindy Lee co-direct, with the multi-award-winning Quizzical Pictures producing.

Binge-watch The Girl From St Agnes only on Showmax.

The Girl From St Agnes trailer release

Showmax has released the trailer for The Girl From St Agnes, their first original drama.

At St Agnes, a prestigious all-girls boarding school in the Midlands, the only saint is in the name. When a popular student is found dead at the base of the old mill, the school is quick to declare the death a tragic accident. But drama teacher Kate Ballard (Nina Milner) doesn’t believe it. The more she investigates, the more Kate realises that she didn’t know the dead girl, Lexi Summerveld (Jane DeWet), or the school at all. Behind the imposing walls of St Agnes, Lexi’s killer won’t be the only person exposed…

The eight-part whodunnit premieres on Showmax on 31 January 2019. Here are four reasons to be excited:

It’s a drama in South African English, for a change
The Girl From St Agnes is a rare showcase of South Africa’s English-language acting talent. “English-speaking actors generally work internationally and they have to do American or British accents to make decent money,” says legendary casting director Moonyeenn Lee, who’s been nominated for two Emmy Awards in the past three years, for The Looming Tower and Roots. “That was why it was nice when this came up, to do English but South African English.”

For her first South African series in a decade, she’s handpicked an incredible cast led by Nina Milner, named one of Model.com’s Top Newcomers at Paris Fashion Week in 2017; 24 Hours To Live star Tyrone Keogh, in his first local role since being named SA’s sexiest actor during his time on The Wild; District 9  and Chappie actor Robert Hobbs; and Monte Carlo Best Actor finalist Graham Hopkins (The Lab). They’re supported by internationally recognised South African talent like Tessa Jubber (Wallander), former Olympic swimmer Karl Thaning (Dredd), and Shamilla Miller (Troy: Fall Of A City); hot new talent like Jane de Wet, Paige Bonnin and 2018 Fleur Du Cap Best Student nominee Tristan de Beer; and local favourites like Strictly Come Dancing winner Zakeeya Patel (Isidingo), Makgotso M (Is’Thunzi), Celeste Khumalo (The Queen), and Jocelyn Broderick (Getroud Met Rugby: Die Sepie).

“I’m still not sure how they put together a cast like this,” says Patel. “It was a masterclass on set every day.”

It’s being distributed internationally

In a South African first, the dark drama is being distributed internationally by Red Arrow Studios International (Death and Nightingales, Bosch).

It’s easy to see why: “Crime stories and twisted dramas taking place in different parts of the world have become a staple,” says Milner. “What this show does really successfully is set the formula in a fresh, contemporary South African context.”

It’s only eight binge-able episodes

Look, we love soaps and telenovelas as much as the next South African, but sometimes it’s nice to watch something with a satisfying ending, like finding out who killed Lexi Summerveld and why. “The Girl From St Agnes has that formula that the whole world has gone mad for: shorter seasons of extremely binge-able criminal content,” says Milner.

Just be warned: you’re going to want to stay up all night and finish it in one sitting. “I read the scripts all in one sitting, so I’m so happy that all eight episodes will be released at the same time,” says Patel. “I binged; once I started reading them I couldn’t stop…  I literally pulled my car over on the side of the road to finish them. It was dangerous but I needed to finish them. So I went into a parking lot and motored through them on my phone, in tiny, tiny writing.”

It’s like nothing you’ve seen before on South African TV

South Africans normally turn to HBO series on Showmax for edgy content, rather than local series, which tend to be a lot more conservative, with nudity and divisive topics generally avoided. But conservative isn’t a word anyone’s going to use for The Girl From St Agnes.

“The series is a first for South Africa,” says Hobbs. “When I read the scripts, I absolutely loved them. They go to the heart of the story. The fact that it’s on Showmax allows it to really go there. There’s no limitations in terms of broadcasting this, no old-school rules and regulations about what you can show live. You don’t have to imply stuff; we can experience it. That is its strength. That’s what makes it unique.”

“The style of writing on this is very different,” echoes Thaning. “What’s great about this show is it certainly pulls no punches, particularly for my character… We need a change in South Africa and I think everyone is hoping this sparks a television movement.”

Produced by the multi-award-winning Quizzical Pictures, The Girl From St Agnes is coming first and only to Showmax on 31 January 2019.

 

The Wound and Five Fingers For Marseilles now streaming on Showmax

Showmax has been steadily ramping up its selection of local content all year but they’ve saved the best for last: you can now stream this year’s Oscar-shortlisted drama The Wound and the African Movie Academy Awards’ Best Film of 2018, Five Fingers To Marseilles.

Inxeba | The Wound, directed by John Trengove

Premise: Xolani, a lonely factory worker, joins the men of his community in the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. When a defiant initiate from the city discovers his best-kept secret, Xolani’s entire existence begins to unravel.

Why you should watch: 1. The Wound is one of the most talked-about South African movies of the last decade. Local cinemas were forced to cancel screenings after death threats and protests about its depiction of the secret Xhosa initiation ritual, then the Film and Publications Board Tribunal reclassified it as porn (it’s not) after complaints from traditionalists, essentially banning it from mainstream cinemas. The classification was later overturned in the North Gauteng High Court. 2. Nakhane as Xolani. Your favourite singer will become your new favourite actor. As AVClub wrote, the film has “a potent weapon in [Nakhane], whose superb, deeply internalized performance manages to suggest wellsprings of longing concealed by a scrim of perpetual wariness.” 3. I-D Magazine called it “the most important LGBT film you will see in 2018… through the character of Xolani we are introduced to a world where homosexuality is still simply not an option.” The excessive protests against the film laid bare the rampant homophobia that remains in parts of South Africa.

Accolades: 1. Oscar-shortlisted, 2018. 2. Winner of 28 international awards. 3. 90% critics rating, Rotten Tomatoes. 4. Included in The Guardian’s list of the best movies of 2018 so far.

Trailer.

Five Fingers For Marseilles, directed by Michael Matthews

Premise: Twenty years ago, the young “Five Fingers” fought for the rural town of Marseilles against brutal police oppression. Now, after fleeing in disgrace, freedom-fighter-turned-outlaw Tau returns to Marseilles, seeking a peaceful pastoral life. When he finds the town under a new threat, he reluctantly fights to free it. Can he free himself from his past? Will the Five Fingers stand again?

Why you should watch: 1. The Wall Street Journal suggested it could be the Western genre’s Black Panther. 2. Variety called it “almost too entertaining for its own good.” 3. Every Western should be filmed in the Eastern Cape from now on; it’s gorgeous. 4. As Tau, Vuyo Dabula is “terrific,” to quote The Los Angeles Times 5. It catapulted writer Sean Drummond and director Michael Matthews into Hollywood, where they’re now repped by William Morris, with Matthews set to direct Monster Problems, starring Dylan O’Brien (Maze Runner, Teen Wolf) for Paramount Players.

Accolades: The most awarded film at the 2018 Africa Movie Academy Awards, where it won five prizes, including Best Film.

Other recent South African highlights to stream on Showmax include:
• The 2018 Silwerskerm short film collection, including Best Short Film – 11 Minutes and Best Director  winner Die Leeftyd van ‘n Orgidee, directed by Marì Borstlap; Best Script – 11 Minutes winner Kromkieriefontein, written by Milan Murray; Best Actor and Best Editor winner Cowboy Dan, starring Brendon Daniels and edited by Alexander La Cock; Best Technical winner Benjamin, lensed by Johannes Pieter Nel; and Best Actress winner Fluit Fluit, starring Cindy Swanepoel. Previous Silwerskerm short film winners have been remade into award-winning movies like Nommer 37 and Vuil Wasgoed. Cowboy Dan trailer.

  • Roberta Durrant’s Krotoa, which won eight international awards and earned Crystal-Donna Roberts the best actress SAFTA for 2018 for her role as a Khoi woman who became an interpreter for Jan van Riebeeck. Trailer.
  • Jaco Smit’s Vir Altyd, a Mauritius-set romcom that reunited Pad Na Jou Hart stars Ivan Botha and DonnaLee Roberts in the most successful South African film at the local box office in 2016. Trailer.
  • Salmon de Jager’s Free State, about a forbidden love affair between a white woman (Nicola Breytenbach) and an Indian man (Andrew Govender) during apartheid. Winner of the Grand Nile Prize at Luxor African Film Festival 2016. Trailer.
  • Quentin Krog’s Vir Die Voels | For The Birds, an Afrikaans romantic comedy that was the third most popular South African film at the box office in 2016 Trailer.
  • Gray Hofmeyr’s Schuks! Pay Back The Money, a Leon Schuster comedy that was the most successful South African film at the local box office in 2015. Trailer.
  • Jon Savage’s mockumentary Stone Cold Jane Austen, the untold story of South Africa’s most prolific rock ‘n roll band who never got recognised, starring Savage, Rob van Vuuren, Kurt Schoonraad and a who’s-who of the SA music industry. Trailer.
  • Henk Pretorius’ Leading Lady, starring Katie McGrath (Supergirl), Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal) and Bok van Blerk (Platteland) in a romantic comedy about an English actress preparing to play an Afrikaans war heroine. Leading Lady was the third most popular South African film at the local box office in 2014. Trailer.
  • Jenna Bass’ Love The One You Love, about a sex-line operator, a dog handler and a computer technician who begin to suspect that their romantic relationships are the subject of a bizarre conspiracy. Best South African Film, Durban, 2014. Trailer.
    Safe House, starring two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington (Training Day) and Golden Globe nominee Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) in a 2012 US box office hit CIA action movie set in Cape Town. Trailer.

Filming wraps on Showmax’s first original drama

The Girl From St Agnes, Showmax’s first original drama, wrapped on Wednesday, 28 November 2018 after filming in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and Johannesburg. The eight-part whodunnit premieres on Showmax on 31 January 2019.

“Our first Original – last year’s light-hearted comedy Tali’s Wedding Diary – had the most successful launch day of any series on Showmax ever,” says Candice Fangueiro, head of content at Showmax. “This is a complete change of direction: The Girl From St Agnes is a dark murder mystery that will keep you guessing and taps into the current conversations in South Africa about #metoo and teen sexuality.”

At St Agnes, a prestigious all-girls boarding school in the Midlands, a popular and beautiful student is found dead at the base of the old mill. Fearful of the scandal it might cause, the school is quick to declare the death of Lexi Summerveld a tragic accident.

But drama teacher Kate Ballard doesn’t believe it. On the night of her death, an upset Lexi had been trying to contact her, and Kate had ignored her. Now wracked with guilt, Kate attempts to piece together the terrible truth.

The more she investigates, the more Kate realises that she didn’t know Lexi or the school at all. Behind the imposing walls of St Agnes, Lexi’s killer won’t be the only person exposed…

Newcomer Jane De Wet was handpicked to play Lexi by legendary South African casting director Moonyeenn Lee (Tsotsi), who’s been nominated for two Emmy Awards in the last three years, for The Looming Tower and Roots.

Kate is played by Nina Milner, who modelled for Vogue Germany and at Paris Fashion Week last year and most recently starred in Troy: Fall Of A City as Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons.

Jane and Nina are joined by an impressive supporting cast that includes internationally recognised South African talent like Robert Hobbs (District 9), Tyrone Keogh (24 Hours To Live), Tessa Jubber (Wallander), Karl Thaning (Dredd) and Shamilla Miller (Troy: Fall Of A City) opposite local favourites like Celeste Khumalo (The Queen), Richard Lukunku (Happiness Is A Four-Letter Word), Zakeeya Patel (Isidingo), Graham Hopkins (The Lab) and three-time South African Film and Television Award (SAFTA) winner Jerry Mofokeng (Heist, Tsotsi), not to mention hot new talent like Paige Bonnin and Tristan de Beer.

The Girl From St Agnes is being produced by Quizzical Pictures, winners of the SAFTA for Best Drama for six of the last eight years, as well as a Peabody. Producer Harriet Gavshon, Quizzical Pictures’ managing director, is drawing on her own private school experiences, which sparked the original idea for the show. This is the first time Harriet has produced a series, rather than just executive producing, since 2009’s Hopeville, which won Best Drama and Miniseries at Rose d’Or, was nominated for an International Emmy, and was a finalist at Monte Carlo.

Catharine Cooke, who won this year’s Best Director In a TV Drama SAFTA for iNumber Number, co-directed the shoot with Cindy Lee, a commercials director helming her first drama series, having previously worked as the social media director on the Emmy-winning Black Mirror. Double SAFTA winner Gillian Breslin (Umlilo; 4Play: Sex Tips For Girls) is head writer. This makes Girl From St Agnes a rare TV series commissioned, produced, written and directed by women.

“What links Girl From St Agnes, Tali’s Wedding Diary and the other Showmax Originals in the pipeline is our aim to work with the best South African talent and be the home for brave, quirky and at times edgy local stories you wouldn’t find anywhere else,” says Candice. “Creating new characters that audiences come to love and follow is an incredibly rewarding experience and we want to establish a platform for more ‘Tali’s’ across varied genres.”

Binge all eight episodes first and only on Showmax from 31 January 2019.

 

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