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.

READ MORE: Terry Pheto ‘honoured’ to have her talent recognised by US agency

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.”

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