The country 21 years on in ’28UP South Africa’

29 November 2013

Twenty-one years ago, for ITV’s award-winning TV documentary series 7UP South Africa, director Angus Gibson filmed a cross-section of the country’s seven-year-old children and asked them about their lives, hopes and dreams.

He’s filmed the children every seven years since: first for 14UP, then 21UP and now, as adults, for 28UP. The full series premieres on Al Jazeera English on Friday.

The South African show is a spin-off from British director Michael Apted’s multi-award-winning UP series, which is on the British Film Institute’s list of the greatest British TV shows.

“The premise of the series is taken from the Jesuit motto, ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man’,” says Paul Eedle, director of programming at Al Jazeera English. “The South African version is fascinating, because it shows the country’s transformation as well as the children’s.”

The series follows the twists and turns of the children’s lives from 1992, two years after Nelson Mandela was released from prison and two years before he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president.

“In the first film, 7UP, apartheid still defined the country’s social divisions,” says Gibson, who directed the breakthrough South African TV series Yizo Yizo.

“The children only understood life from the perspective of their own segregated part of society, so Patrick in an affluent suburb of Cape Town could know nothing of Thembisile’s life in Soweto.

“Seven years later, when the film crew returned, they were teenagers in a new South Africa,” Gibson continues. “At 21, the political struggle had given them chances their parents were denied, but the biggest battle was the war against Aids – and not all of them have survived. Now, at 28, they have entered the adult world, and one of them has even become a Springbok rugby player.”

Al Jazeera has acquired all previous South Africa: UP programmes and has created an eight-episode series following the group from their seventh year through to the present, three-episode 28UP production. This retrospective will include never-seen-before footage from the earlier shoots.

ITV’s Jonathan Levi and Al Jazeera English’s Ingrid Falck are the series executive producers and Jemma Jupp the producer and co-director. 28UP South Africa is a co-production between The Shiver, ITV Studios and Al Jazeera English.

South Africa: UP screens in South Africa on Fridays at 10pm, Saturdays at 2pm, Sundays at 3am, and Mondays at 8am.

Source: National Film and Video Foundation