'South Africa is on the brink now of being able to take on the world,' says Reyka producer

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Kim Engelbrecht in Reyka.
Kim Engelbrecht in Reyka.
Photo: M-Net
  • South African content is going global with international co-productions.
  • Reyka, a co-production with M-Net and Freemantle screened at the Expo 2020 Dubai in October.
  • Ahead of the screening we sat down with director Zee Ntuli and producer Harriet Gavshon about the show's global reach and the impact on the local television industry.

South African content is going global with international co-productions. Following in the footsteps of Trackers is Reyka M-Net's recent co-production with Freemantle, Serena Cullen Productions and Emmy-nominated Quizzical Pictures.

The crime drama starring Kim Engelbrecht and Game of Thrones star Iain Glen recently finished its run-on M-Net. The eight-episode series started streaming on the Australian service, SBS.

"Forget the chilly surrounds of snow and ice: the haunting cane fields of South Africa is our new favourite location for a dark crime drama," wrote Beth Hadfield in her review for the streaming service.

South Africa has long been known for its world-class filming locations and crew, and now with international co-productions, audiences are being introduced to its directors and actors.

Reyka had its world premiere at the 60th Monte-Carlo Television Festival earlier this year. According to its website, the festival is hosted annually by the Principality of Monaco and offers a blend of global premieres, behind-the-scenes panels and signing sessions.

Trade publication Variety chose it as one of the 10 buzziest shows hitting MipTV. MipTV is the longest-running international television market which takes place in Cannes every April.

Continuing its global tour, the first episode of Reyka screened at Expo 2020 Dubai in October. MultiChoice is the broadcast partner to Team SA at Expo 2020 Dubai taking South African talent and productions to the global stage.

Ahead of the screening, Channel24 sat down with director Zee Ntuli (Hard to Get, Lokoza) and producer Harriet Gavshon (Quizzical Pictures) about the show's global reach and the impact on the local television industry.

"I think that South Africa's industry is growing in in a very exciting way," said Zee about the show screening at the expo.

"I think that's kind of testament to our broadcasters and all of the people involved in making the show - Fremantle, Harriet's Quizzical and Serena Cullen. I think it's always really exciting when South Africa can make content that travels because I think we've got a lot to offer on the global stage, and I think it's great."

Harriet added: "I think South Africa is on the brink now of being able to take on the world well, certainly into the world and in our television."

The show written by Rohan Dickinson has been in the works for almost a decade. Harriet first mentioned the series to Zee about four years ago, and he was "immediately desperate to be involved in such an exciting project". He officially signed on as director a few months before filming started.

Reyka's journey to the screen is in itself a story. Harriet recalled that Rowan came to see her eight years ago when he was looking for a producer; at the time, he had been working with a British producer for a couple of years on the project.

"Freemantle was interested in the project, and so we started. I read the pilot script and loved it immediately. We slowly started putting it together and pushing it over the finishing line.

"A lot of it is just being persistent and patient. M-Net then became interested in international co-productions, and Fremantle became interested in South Africa as a co-production partner. So that was great. At a certain point, the stars aligned, but they had after eight years."

'South Africans are great storytellers'

Now it's not only our beautiful locations that are in the spotlight but also our talent.

For creatives like himself, Zee said international co-productions are great opportunities to "tell our stories with this kind of amount of skill and support and to have these sorts of resources".

"We have an enormous amount to offer as storytellers, as a nation to the world. As the world is kind of becoming just more to stories and concept television from different regions, it feels hugely important that we're able to express also with our own voices, as opposed to our stories, our locations, our worlds explored by others."

"It's a very exciting and important time for South African stories, and I think it's going to play an important role in how we see ourselves and how the rest of the world sees us."

One of the most important lessons Zee has learned from working on this co-production is "what you allow to see is possible".

He explained: "South Africa has had a particular way of doing things for quite some time. One of the hugely important things was watching Harriet and Quizzical break the mould and have the kind of courage to push to do bigger, better or interesting things in a more dynamic way.

"Being exposed to a distributor like Fremantle getting insight into how they think and work. I've been fortunate enough to have on this project and been exposed to some incredible minds."

'We've just been given that extra space to really fly'

Over the past few years, it would appear that South African television and scripted series has been evolving very quickly, which Harriet attributes to "an incredibly good base of skills and talents".

"South Africans are great storytellers if you think about how South African filmmakers usually work, how quickly they have to work and how, with so few resources, and just get it done, and they get it done extremely well," said Harriet.

She continued: "South African content has improved over time. The content is there. It just needed an extra push to flower on a scale like this. I think a lot of good groundwork has been done by many people for a long time.

"M-Net, for example, has always been a trailblazer in producing excellent and high-quality content. I think we've been prepared, but we've just been given that extra space to really fly."

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