The Ties That Bind, the first Namibian homegrown television series is currently being shot in Windhoek and New Era went behind the scenes.
By Catherine Sasman
WINDHOEK – In a warehouse behind the Parcel Force company in the northern industrial area of Windhoek, the Optimedia team – a local film and advertising company – is filming the first television drama series the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) has embarked upon.
The team has been busy filming the first six episodes of the series The Ties That Bind, which according to director Abius Akwaake, is a homespun television story that captures life and living in today’s Namibia.
The company has had to opt to film the first six episodes at night between 18h00 until 07h00 the next day in the affordable controlled environment around the set built off the main protagonist’s house to minimise mostly sound disturbance from the busy area.
And yet, the filming has to be interrupted from time to time when loud sirens penetrate the warehouse, and then it is back to shooting scenes in numerous takes.
The drama focusses on Anna Shikongo, a woman who lives in Katutura, and works in one of the more affluent parts of the city as a domestic worker for a successful Afrikaner lawyer, Stefan du Plessis, played by Johan van der Linden.
Although Anna seemingly can leave her employment, she remains. There is an intricate – and secretive – link between her and her employer, Du Plessis.
The drama, says Akwaake, is platformed along the lines of different ‘worlds’ – ‘worlds’ that consist of different economic, cultural, political, and emotional realities – that form the basis on which dramatic elements and stories are introduced and performed.
One world is Anna’s house, which she sustains and shares with her four children. Her husband died in the liberation war.
The second world is Anna’s neighbour’s house owned by her friend and turned into a shebeen.
Du Plessis’ house forms the third world, in which his vain wife, Elke, whiles her days away.
The fourth world is the legal system, in which Anna becomes embroiled with a son in jail, and other convoluted interactions of the characters of the story takes place.
“The story is about Anna who struggles, as a single mother of four, to keep her family together. On the other hand, because she has been working for the rich family for 20 years, that family has become part of her as well; their struggles also become hers,” Akwaake said.
“The family drama is not a gritty representation of life but rather a realistic portrayal of challenges with the added bonus of presenting alternative lifestyles that engender the kind of ideal society that we are all striving towards,” Akwaake said.
The NBC and the Namibia Film Commission (NFC) embarked on the project as a first response to the dearth of local content on the national television screen.
The initial idea was to commission a local soap opera, but the corporation eventually opted to commission tenders for a drama series.
Three local production companies were short-listed, with a two-man evaluating panel – the Executive Producer of the South African popular soapie, Generations, Mfundi Vundla, and Charles Burnette, the American director who was involved in Where Others Wavered – making recommendations to the NBC and NFC for a final selection.
Optimedia, as the selected company, signed an agreement with the NBC and NFC in August last year, after which it embarked on a writers’ workshop to develop the script for the series.
Auditions started in November last year.
The team of scriptwriters consists of the main writer, Femi Kayode from Nigeria, Louis Maruwasa, Nailoke Mhanda, Oshosheni Lomboleni Hiveluah, Dorinda Peters, and Girley Jazama.
The writers said the storylines that drive the story are characterised by tight, sharp dialogue in all Namibia’s languages – with thoroughbred Namibian accents.
The series has a main story with conflicts resolved in one episode, but has sub-plots that carry to the following episode through a cliffhanger. The writers promised a moral lesson learnt, but never at the expense of good entertainment.
Apart from the two main characters – Anna and Du Plessis – there are 30 speaking parts and 16 re-occurring characters in the 26-episode series.
According to Akwaake, the challenge was to get the right actors – of whom Namibia has few – particularly for the main characters in the series.
More than 800 people were auditioned mainly in Windhoek and Swakopmund – for its exposure to international filming activities that have been operating along the coast.
The search for Anna ended only in February this year, after a long and hard search through advertisements, in shopping malls and announcements for prospective actresses in churches.
“We were looking for someone who is not too old, but not young, with a demeanour of a mother and someone you can trust,” Akwaake said.
The crew got word of one woman who could fit the description, and the role of Anna went to medical doctor, Dr Helen Shiimi.
For Shiimi, the world of lights and cameras is a welcome reprieve from her daily dealings with sickness and pain.
“This is quite an experience. When one is working in the medical field, you look at the rest of the world very narrowly. But there is a wide and interesting reality outside medicine,” said Shiimi in between takes.
What she was not prepared for were the long and arduous hours it takes to film, and her part requires her to be on set most of the time.
She has had to learn her lines on the go as she juggles her demanding day job with that of her new found passion.
“But I have learnt to learn my lines per shoot,” she said.
What also sets this production apart from previous ones is that the majority of the crew – 41 out of the 45 – and cast are Namibian, and mostly young people who have worked on previous South African and international productions.
This experience, they say gives them a chance to take control over the process and this also affords the country to groom its own film experts – at it own pace, in its own character.
Veteran stage actor Albert Rickerts, who plays the character Roy, a forty-something sugar daddy and acts as a marketing agent for the production, said there is “hunger” not only among artists but also the general public, for more images of Namibian culture, especially now after 18 years of independence.
“We are sick and tired of seeing Mexican, Nigerian or Ghanaian and American series on our screens. It is time to show that we can also produce television and movie productions of high quality,” said Rickerts. “I am very happy to see that Government has shown an interest in the development of our film industry. Our culture is kraakvars (fresh) and this promises to be a product of high quality. ”
The crew, said Rickerts, forms the “cream of the crop” of the film sector in Namibia.
For the first time, said Akwaake, many of these young people who have worked on other production sets now act as heads of departments, putting them in positions where they take charge of their areas of responsibility.
Young Audrey Mootseng works as the continuity and script supervisor on set.
“This is the first chance that I can work on a film set as a head of a department, which is a great learning experience – everyday,” she said. “One day we will have to start our own serious film industry and this is now the opportunity to grow. Soon we will have a 100 percent cast and crew production.”
“This is a fantastic opportunity not only to provide employment to a lot of young people, but it also inspires all of us to study our own industry and to make it grow in a way that we would want to see it develop,” said Akwaake.
And, he added, the series promises to impact the way Namibians look at themselves with its pioneering style which helped develop the much-needed content that will prove that Namibia can deliver stories that are true reflections of people’s lives here.
“This will revolutionise Namibian television,” said Akwaake.
The TiesThat Bind is expected to be broadcast on NBC from June.