Observatory film-maker Jonty Acton, of Green Films, believes his new 13-part local TV series, Frontier Vets, will go a long way towards getting the local profession of veterinary science and animal husbandry into the homes of all South Africans.
The reality/documentary series, being screened on SABC3, follows eight soon-to-be qualified students who have to take on the responsibility of running a rural animal clinic in a community on the border of the Kruger National Park.
Mr Acton was approached by veterinarian Dr Greg Simpson about the series idea, since they had been friends at school and kept in touch over the years.
“He knew that I was in the film business and looking to develop new projects. What made the idea so strong for ‘Dr Greg’ was how much these students learned in their time at this unique clinic, not just about vet science, but about themselves,” Mr Acton said.
“Dr Greg felt there was definite potential for a possible TV documentary series show based around the students at the clinic.”
Mr Acton said what attracted him to the project was the “journey potential” of the students.
“Of course the animals were an extra drawcard, the wild animals in particular. And the unique nature and positioning of the clinic and the culture-rich community added extra layers to what I felt was a strong foundation for a story of learning and self-discovery. I also knew that the charismatic and empathetic ‘Dr Greg’ would make a great show host.”
Mr Acton said the series was differentiated from other reality shows in that it was not competition-based.
“The dramatic question that drives the show is which of these students has what it takes to be an effective vet in this environment? And the answers are quite surprising and the journeys quite unique for each student.
“There’s no need to artificially establish what’s at stake, as in most reality shows, because here it is quite literally the life and death of the animals and the livelihoods of their owners.
“Each episode is case-based, so we follow the students as they receive a case at the clinic, or are called out in the surrounding community or wildlife parks to deal with cases there. We follow them and see how they manage each case from beginning to end.”
To date the series has been sold to South Africa, Thailand, Spain, Greece, Brunei and Russia, but because of the massive global interest in wild animals, Mr Acton is hoping to also hoping to distribute to Germany, China, the US and the UK.
With so much concern over poaching in South Africa, it stood to reason that the issue would be tackled by the students.
“The students spend time with a poacher to see things from a different point of view, but are also involved in saving a rhino from potential poachers.
“But the poaching aspect is is only a part of why we think young people will be attracted to the profession. There are so many cases where animal owners just lack basic information on how to care for their animals, and this is the primary function of the young vets: to inform and help the community through caring for their animals.”
Dr Simpson, who attended Bishops with Mr Acton, said the main reason for doing the show was get it into South African homes so that it could be both educational and entertaining.
“There is a great need to stimulate interest in the profession in all cultures in our country. We also have shortages of veterinarians in many rural parts of our country. Our main goal for this series is to inspire young people from all backgrounds in South Africa to become veterinarians.”
Mr Acton said the hardest part of making the series was “making the series” itself.
“It’s been a seven-year process and a battle all the way. Having not received a commission from a broadcaster, we needed to raise the money ourselves through private investors and make the series without a broadcaster of pre-sale in place. A risky business for all involved. Then our post-production partner fell away at the last minute and we had to battle to find another one. At first we went it alone, having raised finance through a crowdfunding campaign.
“But Peace Point Entertainment in Toronto came to our rescue in the end, as did the National Film and Video Foundation who gave us a post-production loan. Then we were still faced with the question as to whether anyone would want to buy it. Luckily they did, and we are now looking at the potential of a Season 2 of the series, depending on the ratings of the SABC3 broadcasts.”
* The series airs weekly on Saturdays at 11.30am with repeats on Thursdays at 9.30am on SABC3.