Hopeville stars Themba Ndaba as a recovering alcoholic who tries to rebuild his relationship with his son, played by Junior Singo.

South African feature film Hopeville has shot to international fame, first for winning the award for Best Drama and Miniseries at the prestigious Rose d’Or Festival in Switzerland, and most recently for an Emmy nomination.

Made by Curious Pictures for NGO Heartlines and SABC Education, Hopeville was first broadcast in South Africa as a TV mini-series on SABC 2 in 2008. The award-winning feature came out of this series.

The production stars Themba Ndaba as a recovering alcoholic who tries to rebuild his relationship with his son, played by Junior Singo. Ndaba’s conciliatory efforts revolve around fixing the public swimming pool in Waterval Boven, the small Mpumalanga town in which they live.

Other cast members are Desmond Dube, Fana Mokoena, Terry Pheto, Mary Twala, Jonathan Pienaar and Wilmien Roussouw. The cinematographer was Willie Nel and the art director was Karel Flint.

It was made to support the principle that media can change people’s perspectives, and that one person doing the right thing can make a big difference in society.

Heartlines said it uses the miniseries in its work across the country to teach the value of individual and group action, and to mobilise communities to take the initiative to change their environment.

More than 350 community-based projects have been launched in response to this in South Africa.

In Switzerland the production overcame stiff opposition, beating 85 other television dramas and miniseries. In accepting the Rose d’Or award, producer Harriet Gavshon of Curious Pictures praised the work of writer and director John Trengove and co-producer Mariki van der Walt. She also thanked SABC Education, SABC 2 as well as Heartlines for their commitment to the belief that storytelling can change the world.

“I was really happy and quite overwhelmed,” Gavshon said. “There wasn’t any advance notice – except that it was nominated for the award. At the last minute, and because the director was on a shoot, I decided to go. So, I was there. It was initially called out as one of the top three, then as the winner.”

This year more than 40 countries participated in the Rose d’Or Festival, which rewards originality, quality and creativity in entertainment programming, and encourages excellence in television and new media.

To mark the festival’s 50th jubilee, organisers paid tribute to the UK production “Coronation Street”, which also turns 50 in 2010.

Another honour went to “Idols”, “X Factor” and “Got Talent” judge Simon Cowell, who was praised for his outstanding contribution to entertainment television.

“The Rose d’Or is a very important award in television and certainly the most important European award,” said Gavshon.

“We haven’t received a Rose d’Or before, but Curious Pictures has received many accolades over the years. This, however, is one of the biggest.”

“The success of Hopeville was a combination of exceptional talent – and enormous resolve,” she said.

“It was an extremely difficult shoot – it rained for seven weeks and was shot entirely on location in Waterval Boven. It is a beautiful story, originally written by Michele Rowe and Roger Smith, which director John Trengove and a group of writers made into a miniseries. The art direction was remarkable.”

Waterval Boven had its own defunct public swimming pool, which was restored as the production progressed. “It was incredibly well shot by Willie Nel, and really beautifully directed and edited. Even the jurors at the Rose d’Or remarked on how beautifully the series was made.”

The NGO that commissioned Hopeville played a strong role in its success, Gavshon said. “Heartlines is one of those extraordinary organisations which encourages you to use all your talent to really stretch yourself. They are very far-sighted about the worth of storytelling as a way of encouraging people to live their values. They do this, not by being doctrinaire, but by encouraging creativity.”

A few weeks after the Rose d’Or Festival Hopeville made international headlines again, this time for an Emmy nomination.

At the announcement in Cannes, France, on 7 October, the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced 39 nominations in 10 categories. Hopeville was recommended for best miniseries and is competing against contributions from the UK, Brazil and Germany.

There were also nominations for productions filmed in Argentina, Denmark, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Portugal, Romania, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and the Netherlands.

The competition entails three rounds of judging over a period of six months, with more than 700 judges in 50 different countries participating. The winners will be announced at a black-tie ceremony hosted by actor and director Jason Priestley on 22 November at the Hilton Hotel in New York.

For more information go to www.curious.co.za