BY BILLY SUTER
A GOOD variety of productions made or shot in South Africa is currently being streamed on Showmax, among them an animated short that took the Best Animation award at the 2020 International Emmy Kids Awards. It also won the Children’s Programme Award from the Royal Television Society.
It is Zog, the title of which refers to a character who is the keenest but clumsiest pupil in his class at Dragon School, where he longs to win a gold star as he learns how to fly, roar and breathe fire.
He keeps meeting a kindly young girl who patches up his bumps and bruises, but can she help him with his trickiest school assignment yet: capturing a princess?
Animated in Cape Town by Triggerfish and produced by the UK’s Magic Light Pictures, the 27-minute short captures the magic of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s best-selling picture book, with an all-star voice cast including the likes of Kit Harington, Sir Lenny Henry and Tracey Ullman.
It’s co-directed by multi-award-winning South African Daniel Snaddon (Stick Man) and two-time Oscar-nominee Max Lang (The Gruffalo and Room On The Broom).
Another Donaldson and Scheffler adaptation, The Snail and the Whale, was also recently added to Showmax. Made by the same team as Zog, The Snail and the Whale follows the amazing journey of a tiny snail who longs to see the world and hitches a ride on the tail of a huge humpback whale.
As the snail, Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) won Best Voice Performance at this year’s British Animation Awards, where the short was also up for Best Longform Animation and Best Use of Sound.
A South African-made horror film, Rage, is also new on Showmax. It tells of a group of school-leavers descending 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.
Nicole Fortuin, whose previous film, Flatland, opened the Berlin Panorama, stars as Tamsyn, with The Girl From St Agnes’ breakout stars Jane de Wet (Moffie, Still Breathing) and Tristan de Beer (Alles Malan, Doctor Who) as Roxy and Kyle.
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. He also directed Die Spreeus, one of the 10 most-watched local series on Showmax in 2019.
Enjoying weekly Thursday episodes currently, and available to binge watch from April 16, Noughts + Crosses is a controversial, six-part, BBC One series based on Malorie Blackman’s multi-award-winning novel.
South African Masali Baduza (Trackers) and Bafta-winner Jack Rowan (Born To Kill, Peaky Blinders) play Sephy and Callum, two star-crossed lovers in the tradition of Romeo and Juliet. Sephy is the privileged daughter of the Home Secretary, Kamal Hadley, while Callum’s mother, Meggie, is the Hadleys’ housekeeper. While Sephy and Callum grew up together, they may as well have lived in different worlds.
Shot largely in Cape Town with Film Afrika, the series also stars Paterson Joseph (Peep Show, The Leftovers) and South African actress Bonnie Mbuli (Invictus, Wallander) as Sephy’s parents, Kamal and Jasmine, with Helen Baxendale (Cold Feet, Emily in Friends) and Ian Hart (Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter) as Callum’s parents, as well as Josh Dylan (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, The End of the F***ing World) as his brother Jude.Also new on Showmax is A United Kingdom, opening film of the 2016 BFI London Film Festival. It is a drama that is more than just a heartwarming true story of love overcoming all odds: it’s also the story of Botswana’s independence, its transition to democracy and its fight to retain the rights to any diamonds found within its borders.
The year before South Africa formalised apartheid in 1948, King Seretse Khama (two-time Golden Globe-nominee David Oyelowo), of the neighbouring British protectorate of Bechuanaland, married a British white woman, Ruth Williams (Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike). This upset both their families, not to mention the governments of South Africa, South West Africa, Rhodesia and the United Kingdom, who try to declare Khama unfit to rule.
Director Amma Asante (The Handmaid’s Tale) won the Black Reel Award for Outstanding World Cinema Motion Picture; Guy Hibbert (Eye in the Sky) won a British Screenwriters’ Award for Best British Feature Film Writing; and South African actress Terry Pheto (Tsotsi) was nominated for a British Independent Film Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Seretse’s sister, Naledi Khama.
South African actor Vusi Kunene (Isibaya) has a great role as the regent king, Tshekedi Khama, while Jack Davenport (Norrington from Pirates of the Caribbean) and Tom Felton (Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy) co-star.
The latest Leon Schuster comedy, Frank & Fearless, is another popular new Showmax offering.
When rhino calf Reini is orphaned by poachers, 10-year-old Fearless (Themba Ntuli from Meerkat Maantuig) decides to take action. Teaming up with Sonny Frank (Schuster), a lovable and possibly certifiable rogue, Fearless, Reini and a big black dog set out to find justice for Africa’s last remaining rhinos, gangster-style. Their quest goes horribly wrong when they run into a platoon of merciless poachers, but fortunately Africa itself seems to be on their side.
Kenneth Nkosi (Tsotsi, White Wedding) is head-poacher Dolf and the cast also includes Khanyi Mbau (Happiness is a Four Letter Word), Jennifer Steyn (Goodbye Bafana, Madam and Eve) and David Dennis (Soul City, The World Unseen).
Also look out for these recent hits on Showmax:
- SOMIZI & MOHALE: THE UNION, the fabulous celebrity wedding special that set the record for the most first-day views on Showmax of any show, ever.
- MADAM & MERCY S1, featuring the mother and daughter duo that stole the show on The Real Housewives of Johannesburg’s hit first season.
- MATWETWE, a coming-of-age adventure set in Atteridgeville township over the course of one action-packed New Year’s Eve. Directed by Kagiso Lediga (Queen Sono) and executive produced by Black Coffee, Matwetwe was the second biggest local film at the South African box office in 2019.
- SKEMERSON, a drama about screenwriter and lead actor Pietie Beyers’s own struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder. It’s nominated for four Saftas this year: for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Design, Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actress for Elize Cawood.
- DIE SEEMEEU, a modern-day South African adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s classic play The Seagull, directed by Christiaan Olwagen (Kanarie, Poppie Nongena). Sandra Prinsloo is up for Best Actress at the 2020 Saftas, where co-star Albert Pretorius is up for Best Actor for his performance as Konstant, and Cintaine Schutte is up for Best Supporting Actress as Masha.
- AN ACT OF DEFIANCE, the true story of how lawyer Bram Fischer risked his career and freedom to defend Nelson Mandela and the Rivonia trialists in 1960s South Africa. The film has won eight international awards and is up for two 2020 Saftas, for Costume Design as well as Makeup and Styling
- THREE DAYS TO GO, the fifth biggest local film at the South African box office in 2019, about four estranged siblings who must survive three days under the same roof as they return to their childhood home to lay their father to rest
- JAN S2, about Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, the first South African chef to earn a Michelin star. The first season won the 2019 Safta award for Best Variety Show
- MNAKWETHU S1, the controversial hit reality show that sees married men set out to convince their current wives to agree to a polygamous relationship.
- 18 HOURS, the first Kenyan film to win Best Movie Overall at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards, in 2018. Based on a tragic true story, 18 Hours follows Zack (Nick Ndeda from Shuga), a rookie paramedic who, along with his driver Mark (Brian Ogola from Lusala), spends 18 hours fighting to save the life of aroad accident victim who is denied admission at multiple hospitals in Nairobi.
- POTATO POTAHTO, a Ghanaian-Nigerian romantic comedy about a divorced couple who decide to share equal space in their matrimonial home. Written and directed by Shirley Frimpong-Manso (Rebecca, Devil in the Detail), Potato Potahto stars multi-award-winners Joselyn Dumas (A Northern Affair), OC Ukeje (Alan Poza) and Joke Silva (White Waters), who won Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the 2018 Africa Movie Academy Awards, where the film was also up for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay