On his way to Durban, Joe Mafela was on the same flight as Mfundi Vundla and they got together for a nostalgic little chat.
Mafela was going to the Durban International Film Festival to promote his acting role in Retribution, while Vundla has produced his son Charlie’s feature film debut, How to Steal 2 Million.
Way back in 1964, Vundla sr and Mafela worked on a stage production of Real News and now both have sons following them into the entertainment industry (Joe Mafela jr is a technical director on Big Brother).
Parents and children form a huge theme in Retribution. Mafela plays a retired judge, Khumbulani Maphosa, writing his memoirs in the secluded family holiday home in the unnamed Cape mountains. Preparing for the imminent visit of his daughter, Maphosa is surprised by a lost hiker, who proceeds to ingratiate himself into Maphosa’s daily routine.
Played by Jeremy Crutchley, the hiker has a hidden agenda, though, stemming from one of Maphosa’s judgments.
“This case was always bothering the judge. I made a mistake once… everyone makes mistakes. But, this one was crucial,” explained Mafela.
“These things used to happen, people going to jail for crimes they didn’t commit, or people having done serious crimes, and you feel: ‘Wow how did that one escape?’
“So, it is something that really happens,” said Mafela.
The hitchhiker’s daughter was killed as a result of a poor ruling by the judge and now he is out for revenge, especially since the judge’s daughter is about to come and visit.
With more than 40 years’ experience in the business, Mafela’s an old hand, but he still likes to be challenged. He’s well known for his role as S’dumo in the Zulu sitcom ’Sgudi ’Snaysi (which ran from 1986 to 1992) and is still sometimes referred to as the Chicken Licken guy.
There are countless other comedy roles, though that was more a case of taking whatever roles came his way, rather than a personal preference for the genre.
“Seeing as I’ve been doing comedy for the last 30 years, it was quite a challenge to say: ‘Wow, here’s something exciting.’”
He relished the idea of sinking his teeth into a dramatic role, even if it was only for a 12-day shoot.
The thriller features some tense moments between Crutchley and Mafela and makes good use of make-up when the two start going at each other.
Mafela spends half his time behind the camera – doing everything from producing to directing, working in advertising or in music – and the other half in front of the camera, either for tv work or films. While most of his film work has been for international productions, he thinks local films could be on the increase as the government starts to realise it needs to put more money into the industry.
Mafela describes working on international films as a pleasure because “there’s enough money, enough time”.
“Retribution took two weeks… 12 days,” he said.
Still, he wouldn’t be doing anything else: “It’s my industry. I live in it. It’s a passion I’ve had for years.
“I have achieved nearly everything… no fortune, just fame,” said Mafela, with that trademark chuckle.
l Retribution will play on Friday at Suncoast B at 10.45pm. It releases on the South African circuit on August 19.