Unseen is South Africa’s new crime thriller, centred around the life of Zenzi played by Gail Mabalane who is an ‘unassuming house cleaner’ or so we believe.
Produced and directed by the Blood & Water creators, it isn’t surprising at all that the show has been a success. From its premiere on March 27th to date, the series delivered a strong metric of over 41.90M view hours. Speaking with an intellectual charm, Travis Taute who is the producer and director— his impressive delivery of words were intentional and admirable throughout our conversation. Known for his incredible work ethic and creative genius, he spoke to us about his life behind the scenes and all there is to know about Unseen and its success.
“The idea of Unseen was unveiling what hides behind us as human beings. Don’t we have all that little darkness inside of us? Well, I’m all about developing stories and telling them in their best authenticity. With this one, we wanted to do something that could stand up with all the rest of the international titles without limitations and that’s exactly what we did,” he said. From glancing at his film ledger, it’s clear Taute values rich, weighty narratives and on-the-edge stories regardless of genre. Set in Cape Town, the story follows Zenzi who goes after her missing husband who supposedly was meant to be released from prison. She stops at nothing to get to the bottom of truth while also leaving a trail of bodies. The Unseen mini series was inspired by a Turkish series called Fatma.
Frequently explaining his artistic choices with admirable savvy, Taute points out that the production took about three months working with highly adept cast such as Vuyo Dabula, Dineo Langa, Ilse Klink and more. He speaks at length about how Gail Mabalane was cast for the lead role. “Gail has a very intense energy about her, an incredible actor with wiry unpredictability that we thought we could lean into. Yes, I’ve worked with Gail Mabalane on several projects before but I just knew that this role will give her enough platform to showcase exactly what she’s capable of and as expected, she delivered.” Travis Taute recalls how elated he was when Gail Mabalane accepted the role.
It is undeniable that Gail Mabalane is a national treasure. Unseen ranked 4th globally in its second week after the premier, Gail Mabalane and the rest of the cast have been receiving endless praises. “The show is so fast paced, each scene keeps you at the edge of your seat. You think of where we are now as a country in terms of the safety of women and you just know that a lot of women will resonate too. It’s an unfortunate reality but I’m humbled that I got a chance to be part of this production and tell this story. Seeing Zenzi in those vulnerable moments and how she navigates her way out of them is pretty much riveting,” Gail Mabalane said.
Since the recent announcement of Netflix about wanting to broaden their reach in Africa following the success of Blood & Water, Taute touched on how there’s so much potential and stories yet to be told from an African perspective. “I’m really excited about how Netflix is finally acknowledging the beauty of African storytelling. The European film makers are now exploiting – for lack of a better word – African stories and they are telling them in their own way. I believe we have enough capacity to tell our stories the best way possible and break into the global market,” the film director said. He also mentioned that they are planning on raising the bar and broadening their horizons when it comes to these shows.
Taute who is a co-founder of Gambit Films also shared how being a head of such a production taught him valuable lifetime lessons. “Each day becomes a learning curve. There’s always something new, from the location to the positioning of lighting — you just always have to quickly adjust and find a way to make it work. I think filmmaking is a team sport and your job as a director is to bring out the best in your team so that they can help you create the vision only you have in your imagination. Staying grounded and focusing on the bigger picture is all that matters. It’s impossible to do it alone and without a clear vision and a strong leader,” he stated. It is said that fiction is much closer to the truth and Unseen is the perfect definition for that phrase.
Unseen is now available for streaming at Netflix and be sure to follow the conversation at #Unseen on social media.