Roberta Durrant’s in the director’s chair

Filmmaker Roberta Durrant’s latest movie, Felix – a feelgood story about a young township saxophonist – opened at cinemas this week.

If Roberta Durrant hadn’t met and married Uwe Jänsch, a German documentary-maker, she might never have made the transition from theatre to screen.

Together their company, Penguin Films, has produced a string of popular sitcoms such as Madam and Eve, Sgudi Snaysi, Stokvel and Going Up, as well as long-running TV dramas like Home Affairs and full-length features.

Her most recent movie is Felix, with a cast that includes Dame Janet Suzman and Hlayani Junior Mabaso in the title role.

What inspired you to start producing isiZulu sitcoms like Sgudi Snaysi in the 80s?

I returned from the UK to SA at that time and began working with Thembi Mtshali on a comedy series about three Sowetan women. In the development process, a male lodger emerged and became the

Sdumo character. So Sgudi Snaysi happened by chance, and from there we progressed to Going Up and Khululeka, the voter education series.

What are the biggest challenges facing a TV and film producer in SA?

Finding someone who believes in your project as much as you do and gives you money to produce it. The next big challenge is to do it as best you can within the budget.

Of all the actors you’ve worked with, who made the biggest impression?

I have a soft spot for Joe Mafela, with whom I’ve worked on so many productions since Sgudi Snaysi, and Hlayani Junior Mabaso, who played the title role in Felix – a challenge, shooting over five weeks – and gave a superb performance.

Advice for anyone who wants to emulate you?

Be passionate about what stories you want to tell and don’t take no for an answer. Stick with what you believe in and don’t give up. Be prepared to work very hard and always read the small print. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers, tells you about the 10 000 hours you have to put in if you’re going to be successful at what you want to do…

Your mentors?

Steven Berkoff, with whom I acted in London; Renee Engelbrecht, who taught me about editing; Vusi Dibakwane, who sees what’s funny straight away; scriptwriter Thomas Hall, who is clever and funny; and my husband.


Felix has been selected for the British Film Institute’s 57th London Film Festival from 9 – 20 October.

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