On Sunday, October 27 at 8pm CAT, history will be made. For the first time in the existence of M-Net 101, there won’t be a Hollywood blockbuster in that time slot. Instead, it will be the first 90-minute episode of Trackers, based on the novel of the same name by South African crime writer extraordinaire, Deon Meyer.
It is a momentous occasion, not only for the channel but for the local film and television industry. Trackers was made in collaboration with HBO’s sister network Cinemax and Germany’s public broadcaster ZDF, ensuring international distribution right off the bat.
On top of that, it will show the world the calibre of our acting talent as well as the scope of the stunning locations across the country, from Bo-Kaap to Beitbridge (the South Africa/Zimbabwe border). Film crews come here for this precise reason; this time, it’s from our point of view. It’s authentically South African.
Speaking at the red carpet event at Montecasino in Johannesburg, where the first episode was premiered, author – and filmmaker – Meyer said: “I’ve had some of my work adapted by international production companies and I can tell you this is better because it’s South African-made.”
“It’s something we worked very hard at – to shoot at locations featured in the book, and let the beauty of our country shine.” – Deon Meyer
The book vs the series
Those all-important locations, which consistently provide a real sense of place in Meyer’s books, have been faithfully recreated in the series (apart from one jarring scene at the end of episode one, which Capetonians are going to freak out over).
“Yes, it’s something we worked very hard at – to shoot at locations featured in the book and let the beauty of our country shine,” says Meyer.
Trackers is, by Meyer’s own admission, one of the most complex novels he has written, which weaves together three distinctive and separate stories ultimately into one gripping plot – mainly because he couldn’t decide which one to pursue before finding they could all work together.
It did make the adaptation a challenge, and there’s always going to be the two camps: book or movie. Or in this case, television series.
Without any spoilers, the opening title sequence is breathtaking, and the first episode is explosive. Readers should be happy with the treatment, even though they’ll notice some very obvious differences and liberties (brevity is the mandate; Trackers is a meaty tome) to keep things moving swiftly along.
“We did have to leave out certain things, but the heart is there,” says Meyer, who was closely involved with the screenwriting, like a shadow figure, a “parent looking after the children”. Whether he means the other writers or the characters was not specified. “And even for people who have read the book, there are some lovely surprises,” he adds.
He’s not kidding, and you’ll know exactly what he’s talking about when you watch. There’s one monumental shock in episode one. “Surprise” is an understatement.
Strong ensemble cast
“Once you make the mental (and emotional) leap of accepting that your character needs to have a real flesh and blood presence, the huge acting talent in this country makes it easy.”
The characters have been accurately brought to life, in my opinion, and in Meyer’s. “Once you make the mental (and emotional) leap of accepting that your character needs to have a real flesh and blood presence, the huge acting talent in this country makes it easy,” he says.
In the ensemble are James Gracie (Alexander) as moody and mysterious Lemmer and Trix Vivier as the vet Flea, whose task it is to bring two rhinos from Beitbridge to Loxton in the Karoo. The driver of the truck is Lourens le Riche (Gerald Steyn), who shines so brightly in this relatively small role, almost to the point of scene-stealing. He’ll certainly steal a few hearts.
In another story arc, we have Milla (Rolanda Marais), the 40-something suburban housewife who takes the brave step of leaving her husband and teenage son to become involved in the investigation into a possible terror attack by Muslim extremists led by Osman (Brendon Daniels). Milla’s boss is Janina Mentz, played by Sandi Schultz, and her right-hand man is Quinn, played by Thapelo Mokoena.
Joining Osman as the second major villain of the piece is Nkunzi (Zulu: The Bull), played by Sisanda Henna, who brings the all red velvet tracksuited manic and brutal gangster to his first scenes, and then some.
This is just a thumbnail of what goes down in episode one (of five), unfurling against an atmospheric soundtrack by the award-winning genius that is Brendan Jury.
Trackers is must-watch television which will change the way we see local productions.