×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Ladies’ leaves Botswana in the lurch

With HBO show gone, Kgalewood biz considers its options

The scene from Alexander McCall Smith’s “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” begins with the words, “Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill.”

That hill rises on the outskirts of Gaborone, Botswana’s diminutive capital, and the detective agency itself — or, at least, its Hollywood reproduction — still sits in a dusty lot at its foot.

But with producers of the HBO skein relocating to Cape Town last month, Botswana’s fledgling film and TV industry is left with a mystery that Mma Ramotswe herself would be hard-pressed to solve: What’s next for the industry locals affectionately refer to as Kgalewood?

“Right now, it is really a bit slow,” says Ndipo Mokoka, director of Gaborone-based production company Just Between Us, who worked as production manager on the HBO skein. “It’s so demoralizing. After working so hard and being so patient in the industry, all of a sudden it just dies.”

A year ago, hopes were high that “No. 1 Ladies” would add much-needed vitality to the southern African nation’s budding industry.

“The feeling — and (director) Anthony (Minghella)’s vision — was not only to shoot the series in the country, but also to contribute to the country by helping to build a mature film industry,” says Vlokkie Gordon, of the South African production services company Film Afrika, which worked on the series.

Nearly 200 students received hands-on training during filming of the pilot in 2007, she said. Many returned to work on the HBO skein when it

lensed the following year.

But with the production’s departure, the program ground to a halt. Execs say that after contributing $5 million toward financing the pilot, the recession-strapped government of Botswana balked at coughing up coin for the skein.

As negotiations dragged on to try to keep “No. 1 Ladies” in the country, Gordon says, it became clear that the effort to convince the government to find more money was a “wild goose chase,” considering that the South African rebate had been doubled.

Producers are now hoping to lens two 90- minute “No. 1 Ladies” features in South Africa, with occasional shoots on location in Botswana. Pre-production is set to begin later this year.

According to Mokoka, industry execs in Botswana are frustrated by the lack of government support.

The TV industry, led by pubcaster Btv, is dead, he says. A proposed film commission has failed to gain traction, and despite plans to introduce rebates, there are still no incentive schemes to compete with its neighbor to the south.

Still, Mokoka is encouraged by the continued interest of foreign filmers, with a major U.K. production company planning to scout locations in the country in August.

He also had hopes that the government might change its tune. During the filming of “No. 1 Ladies,” the country’s vice president, Mompati S. Merafhe, visited the set, where some 600 locals were employed on both sides of the camera. Merafhe, says Mokoka, was impressed.

“That’s when (the government) realized this is a serious thing, and it can sustain us for a long time,” he says. The question remains when that support will become tangible.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Will Arnett Joins BBC Soccer Comedy

    Will Arnett Joins BBC Comedy ‘The First Team’ From ‘The Inbetweeners’ Producers

    Will Arnett and Chris Geere will star as the chairman and coach of an English soccer team, respectively, in “The First Team,” a new comedy for the BBC from the producers of “The Inbetweeners.” The series will follow the off-the-field misadventures of three young soccer players played by Shaquille Ali-Yebuah (“The Feed”), Jack McMullen (“The [...]

  • 'Game of Thrones' Fashion at the

    'Game of Thrones,' Fashion Slayers: HBO's Drama Winners Also Shined on the Carpet

    The cast of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” knew how to make an entrance (and an exit) on Sunday night at the Primetime Emmy Awards. Before winning the night’s final trophy, Best Drama Series, stars like Emilia Clarke and Gwendoline Christie pulled out some fantastical looks on the purple carpet, with Clarke donning the mother-of-all-earrings by [...]

  • Emmys Fashion: Best Dressed on the

    Emmys: Best Fashion on the Purple Carpet

    The biggest stars in television stepped out on the Emmy purple carpet on Sunday night in a stunning display of gowns and vivacious looks. Fashion expert Brooke Jaffe, who visited Variety’s set after the show, picked some of her favorite dresses of the night, which included Zendaya’s truly enviable Vera number and Mandy Moore in [...]

  • Emmys 2019: Biggest Winners and Losers

    Winners and Losers of the 71st Emmy Awards

    The 71st Emmy Awards was a spectacular affair for the Brits, while broadcast networks all but vanished. Watch Variety’s Elaine Low and Audrey Yap unpack TV’s biggest night of the year, which saw “Game of Thrones” and “Fleabag” take home the top prizes, winning best drama series and best comedy series, respectively. Popular on Variety

  • Atmosphere71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Show,

    Emmy Viewers Not 'Feelin' Good' About Bizarre Music Choices

    It was known ahead of time that the Emmy Awards planned to dispense with a traditional orchestra or pit band for the walk-up and bumper music. What wasn’t anticipated was that the music choices were being outsourced to a bar mitzvah DJ in Des Moines. Or, very possibly, it was a local who had found [...]

  • Atmosphere71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Show,

    Emmys: Big 4 Broadcasters Post Lowest Combined Wins Ever

    The Big 4 broadcast networks put a cap on their worst year in Emmy history on Sunday night. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC brought home just 16 Emmy Awards — the lowest combined total in history for the four major broadcast networks. The previous low was 19 combined wins in 2016. Last year, the networks [...]

  • Karamo BrownLA LGBT Center 'Hearts of

    Karamo Brown Addresses Backlash Against Sean Spicer Comments

    Karamo Brown has doubled down on comments he made about his fellow “Dancing with the Stars” contestant Sean Spicer, in which he promoted the idea of meeting political adversaries “in the middle.” The amicable “Queer Eye” host received criticism when he said he was “most excited to meet” Spicer ahead of the show’s 28th season, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content