SA’s Billy Elliot with Cape jazz

2013-09-13 10:00

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Hlayani Junior Mabasa bunked school to play the penny whistle in Cape Town beer halls last year.

His efforts paid off, culminating in an award-winning film called Felix, set to open at cinemas countrywide on Friday.

The 14-year-old boy, originally from Pimville, Soweto, beat 400 hopefuls to land the part of Felix Xaba, the lead in the film shot last year in Cape Town’s southern suburbs and the Langa township.

“I am so stoked right now. It’s so cool! My best friends and family are really happy for me too,” he said this week.

Mabasa was excused from Johannesburg’s Jules High School to make the film over five weeks. A tutor helped him keep up with his schooling.

“I don’t like school and I hate keeping quiet. So ja, I loved making the film and learning with a tutor after shoots,” he said, adding that he passed all his subjects well.

Described as “Billy Elliot with Cape jazz”, Felix tells the story of a teenager who dreams of becoming a saxophonist like his late father.

But his mother, Lindiwe, played by soap star Linda Sokhulu, dismisses jazz as the devil’s music.

Sokhulu was full of praise for her young co-star: “Hlayani’s expressions are beautiful. Your heart just goes out to him.”

In April, the movie had crowds in stitches and in tears at the Durban International Film Festival, winning the Audience Award for Best Film.

Mabasa’s father, Kennedy, lauded his son’s method acting: “Hlayani is a natural. He didn’t even need Vicks to cry!”

But Mabasa spoke of how hard it was to cry for the cameras: “I was actually really nervous about the sad scenes and felt so relieved when the tears just came.”

The movie also features Dame Janet Suzman as Felix’s English teacher, Mrs Cartwright.

The niece of anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman, she was born in Johannesburg and lives in London, where she was honoured by Queen Elizabeth in 2011.

“Hlayani is an adorable child with remarkable charm,” she said.

Mabasa was chosen after nationwide auditions and delighted the movie’s director, Roberta Durrant, by learning to play the penny whistle in just two months.

The youngster hopes to make more movies.

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