Pheto’s journey is a complex and inspiring one − the 35-year-old still hustles for roles and is running a production company that’s yet to make a profit.
Her first movie as a producer, empowering self-discovery tale Ayanda, cost R6 million to make with the help of investor funds. However, as a relatively small indie film, it didn’t recoup millions at the box office for her company, Leading Lady Productions.
In fact, the project only broke even after USA-based director Ava Duvernay picked up the American and Canadian distribution rights for the movie last year, after falling in love with it when it received a jury award at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Dividends from DStv’s Box Office service, which offered the movie on its platform last year, also stemmed the financial losses.
Pheto says she didn’t expect the movie to make a profit from the start and that she used the experience for other kinds of benefits.
“As a first-time producer, I wanted to work on a project I believed in and grow with it. It did OK box office-wise, but was never going to be a multi-million-rand film. We had no marketing budget at all; no street posters. Yet the right people still saw the film – and that’s all you need sometimes.”
She and her local agent, Moonyeenn Lee, “were crossing fingers” that Duvernay would show a keen interest in Ayanda, given her distribution company Array’s focus on amplifying black women film-makers. “Ava ended up just loving the film. Also, the recognition it received from the jury at the LA Film Festival made it easy for us to get that distribution deal.”