While international content certainly has its place, MultiChoice have found an almost insatiable appetite for authentic local content – the more local entertainment they serve, the less international content audiences choose to watch. African audiences, like others across the world, respond enthusiastically to seeing themselves, and their communities represented by homegrown productions in their language. The spin-off is the upskilling of local crews, investment in infrastructure and equipment, showcasing local talent in front of and behind the camera and support for local industries, both directly and peripherally involved in productions.
In 2019, MultiChoice co-produced a television adaptation of global best-selling author Deon Meyer’s Trackers, with German broadcaster ZDF and HBO’s sister channel, Cinemax, which distributed the series worldwide outside of South Africa and Germany. The show was the most-watched on premier channel M-Net for 2020, drawing a larger audience than Game of Thrones. It featured a South African cast and employed more than 1 000 top local production crew during production in Cape Town.
The second co-production to come to local and international screens is Reyka, with a globally-recognised face in Kim Engelbrecht portraying the powerful female lead character, directed by Zee Ntuli and Catharine Cooke, jointly produced by Serena Cullen for Serena Cullen Productions in the UK and Harriet Gavshon for Emmy-nominated Quizzical Pictures in South Africa. The series premiered on M-Net on 25 July and will be distributed globally by Fremantle.
Reyka follows a flawed but brilliant criminal profiler, Reyka Gama (Kim Engelbrecht). Haunted by her past, she investigates a string of brutal murders committed by a serial killer in the sugar cane fields of KwaZulu-Natal. Having been abducted as a child by a farmer named Speelman (Iain Glen), Reyka is traumatised by the experience, but this also helps her enter the minds of Africa’s most notorious criminals and turn them inside out. Manipulative and charming, his hold on Reyka, 20 years later, forms part of the backbone of the story, as does Reyka’s relationship with her mother Elsa, played by Anna-Mart van der Merwe.
Filmed over seven weeks in locations from Stanger to Inanda in KwaZulu-Natal, Reyka employed more than 70 crew members directly and hundreds more, indirectly. The production team, crew and cast stayed at the Garden Court in Umhlanga for the duration of the shoot, offering the hotel and its staff a steady income during the height of COVID-19 lockdowns which saw local and international travel, prohibited. Indeed, keeping the entire cast and crew safe on set at the height of the terrifying second COVID-19 wave that hit KZN particularly hard was a challenge – but one that was successfully navigated, with nobody falling ill. More than 50 local people were employed as drivers, labourers and security guards as well as fixers, caterers and location scouts, with four interns forming part of the camera and sound departments. More than 2 000 extras were employed during the course of production – with more than half, from KZN.
The series opened the 60th Monte-Carlo Television Festival with its worldwide premiere in June 2021, receiving rave reviews from guests and media, alike. It was also chosen by Variety as one of the ’10 Buzziest Shows hitting MipTV’.
Following Reyka later in 2021 is Showmax and Canal + co-production Blood Psalms, a 10-part fantasy series influenced by ancient African mythology as a depiction of pre-colonial Africa. Written and directed by Jahmil XT Qubeka and produced by Layla Swart Najaar, Blood Psalms tells the story of a fierce teenage African queen, Zazi, who battles a world-ending prophecy to navigate her people through complexities, politics and endless wars. The series portrays Africa in a way that the world has never seen it before, showcasing our ancient culture and bringing to the fore, our excellent storytelling skills. The series was produced in the Eastern Cape and also provided substantial skills transfer, employment and economic benefits to the hard-hit region.
Survivor South Africa: Immunity Island – currently on air on M-Net and in Australia via streaming service 10play – also found a shelter from the pandemic on the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, creating over 100 local jobs, transferring world-class skills and boosting the region’s economy to the tune of R10 million, in partnership with the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC).
Each of these shows – and the scores of others produced in-country, in their local languages and by local teams – leave behind new skills, boost local economies and lay the foundations for more and more of our people involved in producing them to fall as in love as we are with the crafting and telling of African stories and sharing them with the world.