The Ellen Pakkies Story: A Leading Profile of Jill Levenberg

Jill Levenberg has been lighting up our living rooms for years as “Maymoena Samsodien” in the local South African drama Suidooster, but now she will be lighting up the big screen with her leading role in the highly anticipated, ‘Die Ellen Pakkies Storie’.

Jill will be playing the titular role of ‘Ellen Pakkies,—a role Jill describes as “once in a lifetime!”.  The Cape Tonian mother, Ellen Pakkies, made headlines in 2007 when a failed system tragically forced her to fatally strangle her 20-year-old, drug-addicted son, Abie. Ellen was arrested, went on to receive a 3-year suspended sentence and was instructed to do community work. Jill says that the film made her realise that there are so many more women like Ellen on the Cape Flats who suffer at the hands of their substance-abusing children. She says that “the film comes at a time when substance abuse, especially among young people on the Cape Flats, is escalating” and “The Cape Flats has become a neglected spot”. From this, we see how in touch Jill is with what is, and has been happening for years, on the Cape Flats.

In preparation for the role, Jill spent a lot of time with Ellen in Lavender Hill, where the tragic incident took place. Her “method-acting” made a great impact on how “on-screen” Ellen Pakkies was received and the response to the film has been fantastic!
The film has also stolen the hearts of audiences in places like the Netherlands where it was screened at sold-out shows at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. The film also won big at the kykNET Silwerskermfees, where Die Ellen Pakkies Storie walked away with 3 awards! Jill Levenberg’s heart-wrenching performance as Ellen Pakkies won her a Best Actress award; Jarrid Geduld’s gripping performance as Abie Pakkies made him walk away with the Best Actor award and the Best Script award went to the extremely talented Amy Jephta!
The film will next be screened at the famous and much-loved annual “Seattle International Film Festival” in the United States, which is in its 44th year of existence. ‘Die Ellen Pakkies Storie’ will be one of 400 films from 90 countries that will be screened over 25 days in front of about 145 000 attendees.

However, Jill is not just about that ‘silver screen’ life. The genuinely authentic and humble ‘method actor’ still lives in Kensington, Cape Town where she was born and raised. When asked how she manages to play a Muslim character like “Maymoena” so well despite being Christian, Jill is quick to credit the Muslim community in Kensington, as well as some of her Muslim family, for influencing how she portrays ‘Maymoena’. One of the most touching things about Jill is when she said: “I wanted to give my Maymoena character dignity because most of the time Muslims are portrayed negatively in the media and I knew I was given a big task when I took on the role.” Jill’s statement is genuine and one can almost feel how her intentions warm up one’s heart.
She also offered classes to students who wished to pursue drama, but were financially unable to attend “grossly expensive” courses which were beyond the students’ financial means. However, the hall that she offered the classes in became unavailable and she is currently looking for an alternative venue.

In addition to being a top actress and community stalwart, Jill is also all about that ‘education life’. In 2004, she graduated tops at the University of Cape Town, making the Dean’s Merit List, with an Honours Degree and Double Major in Theatre & Performance and English Literature.
She has also starred in many other productions, appearing on-screen as well as on stage. You may have seen Jill in these films: Genadekans, Noem My Skollie, Fluit Fluit, As Ek Huistoe Kom, Abraham, A Cut Above, Tamarind and Pictures and Apron Strings She has also made her mark on the theatre scene in plays like Orpheus in Africa, Blood Brothers, Other People’s Lives, I Virgin Boy, Breathing, Medea, Hamlet, Mephisto, Die Geel Komplot, The Third Coming, Harambe and The Great Gatsby. She has also made cameo appearances on various local soapies like Stokvel, Final Verdict, A Place Called Home and Rugby Motors.

Jill has warmed the hearts of South Africans as “Maymoena Samsodien” in Suidooster, and has once again shown us in ‘Die Storie van Ellen Pakkie’s why she is cemented in the hearts of so many people. You see, when Jill Levenberg plays a character that possesses kindness; humour and an altruistic need to improve the lives of others, she is not playing a character. She is, quite simply, just being herself.

If you want to see Jill light up the big screen, you can book your tickets to see Die Ellen Pakkies Storie which releases this Friday at Ster-Kinekor cinemas.