EXCLUSIVE Room 9 Interviews
Exclusive interviews with the creative minds behind the South African X-Files, Room 9.
What were the origins of Room 9?
Athos Kyrus, head writer: Darrell Roodt, who’s a filmmaker, had come up with this concept with Ivan Milborrow and Michael Swan, which was lifted from a real story, about this detective from apartheid days who worked in an occult unit that dealt with anything that was supernatural in nature. So kind of like The X-Files but in a South African context. They came up with the idea to set the occult unit within the police department set in the future of South Africa, like 2020, and that was kind of the lifting off point.
Is there much genre stuff in South Africa, or Room 9 unusual?
Kyrus: Room 9 is quite revolutionary in terms of trying to do something that was leaning towards science fiction because there really isn’t anything else out there, certainly in terms of television. I think there was as series some time ago that was made in South Africa by a Canadian company, Charlie Jade, and that was the closest. Really South African television is all about soap opera, daily drama and weekly drama, and beyond that there really isn’t anything that’s trying any other genre. So it was quite exciting because it did feel like it was the first time we had ever attempted something like this.
The show deals with creatures from African mythology like the Tokoloshe, that UK viewers may be unfamiliar with. Was it important to bring elements of African legends into the show?
Jeremy Nathan, producer: Absolutely, what was exciting to everyone involved was that these mythical fantasy legends are so prevalent in everyday society across the continent, and they’ve never really been used in TV and film in Africa, though there are a couple of Nigerian films which have very successfully used the horror genre and the success of District 9, I think, opened up a lot of people’s imaginations.
Room 9 got a fantastic response from the public in South Africa. An average of three million people a week watched the show and they were incredibly active in social media in the lead up to the show, during the show and after the show, to the extent that they are still Twittering now four months after the show has been screened. Some of the responses were like, “t last there’s been a show that enables people just to get pure entertainment whilst dealing with some quite serious legends and themes that are very common in the pulp press.”
In the tabloid press here it’s very, very prevalent to have stories of deaths and myths, abducting people, ghosts, African monsters, so we tried to make Room 9 quite pulpy and quite accessible. We are the only country in the world that had [an occult unit within our police] because there are so many of these crimes being committed. There was a story several years ago about a torso that was found in the Thames called Adam and our police unit was called in to assist with Scotland Yard. This is the type of story that inspired everybody.
Kyrus: We tried as much as possible to try and deal with the mythological notion of creatures in South Africa. Certainly the Tokoloshe is one of the most widely prominent. It’s talked about in newspapers every day. We did a lot of research into each individual myth. A lot of these stories were lifted from newspaper articles, from old case files that we found, from the occult unit that was operating in the ’80s.
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