The acclaimed SABC1 series Intersexions has cut a swath through the 6th annual SA Film and Television Awards, winning 11 of the 13 TV drama categories in which it had been nominated.
Among the TV Drama SAFTAs it garnered at a glamorous function in Gallagher Estate on the evening of 10 March were the awards for Best TV Drama, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Cinematographer, Best Writer/Writing Team, Best Editor, Best Production Design, Best Sound Design, Best Music Composition, and Best Make-up/Hairstylist.
In the Best Sound Design, Best Editor and Best Actor categories, all the nominations had been for Intersexions. In all, the series boasted 23 nominations.
Co-produced by Curious Pictures and Ants Multimedia, in partnership with Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa (JHHESA) and SABC Education, with funding from USAID and PEPFAR, Intersexions comprised 25 standalone but interlinked episodes, which mimicked the human sexual network and showed how HIV exploits the network to spread. The 26th episode was a hard-hitting documentary laying out the progression of HIV - from the perspective of the virus.
The series was first broadcast on SABC1 in late 2010 and early 2011, and rebroadcast on the channel in the latter half of 2011. During its first broadcast, it quickly became one of the most popular shows across all genres on South African television, taking second place only to the juggernaut soap opera Generations.
"We're over the moon about the immense success that Intersexions has enjoyed at the SAFTA Awards. It really shows that it kept everyone talking, debating and doing some introspection," says Pontsho Makhetha, General Manager (Acting) for SABC Education.
"This overwhelming recognition for Intersexions is testament to the great talent and hard work of so many people, who took the original idea for the series and ran with it. The result was compelling television with a strong social message, which has been a hit with the television industry and audiences alike."
Richard Delate, managing director of JHHESA, the health communications NGO that commissioned the series, paid tribute to the series' funders, USAID and PEPFAR, saying that the SAFTA awards tally - over and above the show's hit status among audiences - proved that their support had been well-placed.
"Without the financial backing of USAID and PEPFAR, Intersexions would have remained a great idea, but never become reality. We need to recognise this support, and thank them sincerely for having the faith in us to do so," he says.
The sheer number of awards that Intersexions took at the SAFTAs is testament to the fact that entertainment containing critically-important health messaging need never be boring or average, says series producer Harriet Gavshon, of Curious Pictures.
"Intersexions shows how important talent and imagination are when you want to have a social impact. Even though it had a crucial message, it was communicated in an engaging and compelling way. We are gratified that the audience and the SAFTA jury recognised this. That it has also had a remarkable impact on the audience's understanding of their own risk of contracting the HIV virus, makes it even more gratifying," says Gavshon.
Co-producer Uzanenkosi Mahlangu, of Ants Multimedia, points out that Intersexions was unique among television series: it did not have a defined target audience.
"Where other series go for a specific audience segment - by age, gender, race or income group - Intersexions did not. It targeted every single one of us, which is appropriate for a series that addresses a disease that does not discriminate.
"It was an enormous gamble to do this, as it could very easily have backfired and not won over any audience segments; instead, it caught on and its popularity spread like wildfire. These 11 SAFTAs are recognition of Intersexions as a trailblazer, and one that has set fresh standards of excellence for television drama in this country," says Mahlangu.
Delate says that fans are as delighted at Intersexions' SAFTA success as those who were involved in making the series. Two tweets received during the awards ceremony sum up how they feel:
* "Congrats, this is the best tv drama eva made! Keep it up, hope season 2 wud b even much better!"
* "Props to u guys for all those awards ... Eleven awards for informing and getting conversations started about sex and relationships ... Producers must b quite chuffed. Well done!"
He continues that not only has Intersexions set the bar high for other series, but also for itself.
"I congratulate and applaud every single person who helped to make Intersexions the fantastic series that it is; you proved that not only are we able to make world-class TV drama, but also that we can make social issues so compelling that audiences dare not miss out. The challenge is to do that again for the second series of Intersexions, which is now in pre-production!" he quips.