''Jozi-H'' puts South African spin on medical dramas
Date: Monday, December 18 @ 19:41:13 MST
Topic: Black Habits Articles
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - "Jozi-H," a new television series set in a fictional Johannesburg hospital, enters a crowded genre, but this medical drama offers something different -- a glimpse at life in a society ravaged by violent crime.
The Canadian-South African co-production follows the same format as primetime U.S. dramas like "ER," with breakneck editing, punchy dialogue and overlapping story lines that play out over several episodes.
But it also deals with South Africa's specific problems.
The country has some of the world's highest levels of violent crime, a crushing AIDS epidemic as well as millions of people suffering diseases associated with poverty and need: its busy emergency rooms bear witness to these scourges.
"Jozi-H" draws inspiration from two of Johannesburg's most pressured trauma wards -- Johannesburg General and Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in the sprawling Soweto township.
Its creators believe there is an appetite for such a series even among crime-weary South Africans since "Jozi-H" goes beyond the sensational headlines to delve into the lives of those who see the consequences of crime up close and personal.
"The blood and gore is just one element of the show. The drama is about the people who work in these conditions," said Mfundi Vundla, the South African creator of "Jozi-H," who is also behind the highly rated local soap opera "Generations."
"I have the greatest respect for healthcare workers that go through this hell, day in and day out. The volume of gunshot wounds, knifings, people axed, blunt trauma here -- it's amazing."
"Jozi-H" is billed as pure entertainment but it reflects a reality of over-stretched hospitals dealing with great numbers of victims of gun crime and sexual abuse.
"The situation is that doctors are under a lot of pressure. Budgets are down. The government is stressed. People are coming in for trauma in big numbers," said Tumisho Masha, who plays snappy dresser Dr. Zanemvula Jara in the show.
The co-production between South Africa's Morula Pictures and the Canadian Inner City Films charts new territory because the plot lines have a distinctly African flavor and the cast is multiracial and international, its creators say.
For instance, it looks at the divide between conventional and traditional medicine, which has a wide following in South Africa. Tribal healers, known as sangomas, still prescribe herbal remedies to many sick people in the country.
The series also tackles AIDS in a nation where more than one in nine people are thought to be infected with HIV.
In the show, patients ask questions about the safety of blood supplies while doctors attend rallies in townships to demand the government pay more attention to the epidemic.
The show also tackles South Africa's sensitive past.
The headstrong Dr. Ingrid Nyoka, played by Thami Ngubeni, is on a mission to discover what happened to her father, an anti-apartheid activist who went missing under white minority rule.
"Place, politics and crime aren't primary. They are incidental in a story about people," said Terence Bridgett, cast as the pediatric surgeon Leonard September.
The production cost of each episode is about $875,000 and because it is shot on professional film, the image is polished, unlike many locally made shows on tighter budgets, said Vundla.
Jozi-H" was filmed over six months in a Johannesburg warehouse transformed to resemble a real hospital complete with scuffed door frames, "no smoking" signs hung in the cafeteria and intravenous drips.
After years of boycotts because of apartheid, South Africa is now Africa's cinematic powerhouse.
Stunning locations, a balmy climate and low costs have made it an attractive alternative to America, Australia and New Zealand for foreign film shoots. And the industry has also benefited from tax breaks for directors and new sources of funding to nurture local cinema.
The first 13-episode season of "Jozi-H" began airing in Canada in October to mixed reviews. It is scheduled to debut on South Africa's public broadcasting station in May.
By Sarah McGregor