Its sleepy nature was an essential ingredient to the book, but tourist bosses are hoping a film version of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency will provide a shot in the arm to Botswana's laidback capital. Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella has brought a rare bustle to Gaborone since he and his crew arrived 10 weeks ago.
Its sleepy nature was an essential ingredient to the book, but tourist bosses are hoping a film version of The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency will provide a shot in the arm to Botswana’s laidback capital.
Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella has brought a rare bustle to Gaborone since he and his crew arrived 10 weeks ago to bring Alexander McCall Smith’s best-selling novel to an even wider audience.
As well as filming in the capital, Minghella, of The English Patient fame, is planning to shoot scenes in the stunning Makgadikgadi Pans, huge salt flats in northern Botswana, and has roped in locals for a funeral scene at a village on the outskirts of Gaborone.
Although one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, Botswana is keen to drum up alternative sources of income apart from its diamond mines and spectacular wildlife, which draws in hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors each year.
Tourism is now the second largest industry after diamonds and worth about $250-million a year to the economy, but visitors tend to use this capital of 200Â 000 as a stop-off point before heading towards the game parks.
If the on-screen exploits of heroine Precious Ramotswe—played by United Sates rhythm and blues diva Jill Scott—attract anything like the attention the book has, Gaborone could also become a must-see destination.
Movie-makers seeking an African backdrop usually head over the border to Botswana’s giant southern neighbour South Africa, but the Detective Agency team were determined only Botswana would do and have worked closely with the government.
In an interview with Agence France-Presse, the film’s producer, Amy J Moore, said that the production team and government even held joint workshops to discuss how to make the most of a possible tourism boom through special Mma Ramotswe tours—“Mma” being the polite term in Botswana to address a woman and the preferred salutation for McCall Smith’s protagonist.
“Gaborone for instance could become the new economic centre that encompasses all forms of media. This would enhance Botswana’s global profile,” said Moore.
“We hope to see more and more people attracted to Botswana as a premier tourist destination.
“We are beginning to formulate a game plan so people could come and see where Mma Ramotswe lived. The character is suddenly a real and iconic character.”
Benefit to local tourism
Publicist Joey Sapieka said that visitors will be able to visit to the actual set after an agreement to keep it intact for the next decade.
“We have secured a 10-year licence, which is also renewable, so people who watched the movie or read the book would still be able to tour the set for years to come, and that will benefit local tourism a great deal,” said Sapieka.
All sides are also hoping that the chance to have rubbed shoulders with Hollywood’s finest will help the fledgling local movie industry find its feet, a tough order with South Africa competing next door.
More than 1Â 000 locals have been employed during the shooting, both as extras in front of the camera and in behind-the-scenes roles.
“With local producers, and actors learning from the best directors and producers in the world, they are now ready to take on the world,” said Moore.
As The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is the first in a sequence of eight Precious Ramotswe novels, the film crews are likely to return to what the book calls this “place of peace” so loved by Mma Ramotswe, notable for sipping her bush tea and sitting in a dusty spot under her acacia tree to reflect on cases.
“As long as the world wants to see more of Mma Ramotswe, we would continue to shoot more movies based on the various books Alexander McCall Smith has written,” said Moore.
Tourism Ministry spokesperson Tiro Kganela, who has worked previously as a producer for Botswana television, said the movie should “kick-start the local film industry” as well as increase Botswana’s profile among holiday makers.
Myra Sekgororoane, the chief executive of the national tourism board, also saw huge possibilities.
“A picture is worth a million words, and television audiences always far exceed readership,” she said.—AFP