Runyararo Mapfumo on the 2022 BAFTA Breakthroughs: ‘I always want to be doing something quite different’

BAFTA Breakthrough Runyararo Mapfumo discusses her work on Sex Education, new Netflix drama KAOS, and her upcoming feature film debut Darkness Descends

Runyararo Mapfumo, Director and BAFTA Breakthrough UK for 2022/23 (Credit: BAFTA/Sophia Spring)
Runyararo Mapfumo, Director and BAFTA Breakthrough UK for 2022/23 (Credit: BAFTA/Sophia Spring)
Runyararo Mapfumo, Director and BAFTA Breakthrough UK for 2022/23 (Credit: BAFTA/Sophia Spring)

BAFTA Breakthrough is the arts charity’s flagship talent initiative, providing a springboard to creatives working in film, games, and TV. Participants receive unique professional development support from BAFTA, from coaching and mentoring to networking opportunities with BAFTA’s global membership of key industry figures.

NationalWorld’s Alex Moreland spoke to a selection of this year’s BAFTA Breakthrough talents, including actors Ambika Mod (This Is Going to Hurt) and Leon Harrop (Ralph & Katie), writer Jack Rooke (Big Boys), cinematographer Diana Olifirova (Heartstopper), and director Runyararo Mapfumo (Sex Education).

Below, Runyararo Mapfumo explains how she felt on learning she’d been selected for the 2022 BAFTA Breakthrough initiative, discusses what she learned on Sex Education, and speaks about her involvement in the upcoming Netflix drama KAOS. Mapfumo also reveals a little about what to expect from Darkness Descends, her upcoming feature film debut.

Runyararo Mapfumo, Director and BAFTA Breakthrough UK for 2022/23 (Credit: BAFTA/Sophia Spring)
Runyararo Mapfumo, Director and BAFTA Breakthrough UK for 2022/23 (Credit: BAFTA/Sophia Spring)
Runyararo Mapfumo, Director and BAFTA Breakthrough UK for 2022/23 (Credit: BAFTA/Sophia Spring)

How did you feel when you heard you’d been selected as a BAFTA Breakthrough?

I was over the moon to be selected for the BAFTA Breakthrough. It’s just a huge honour to be amongst this list of creatives – I’ve been very aware of the list over the years and people that I really, really respect have been a part of it, so to get to be involved is really, really exciting.

It’s always, I think, really encouraging to be acknowledged by an establishment like BAFTA or to be acknowledged by your peers in the film or TV community in any sense. I spend my time so focused on the projects and the work that’s being made, and that’s the most important thing, but it is great to be able to just step back and get that acknowledgement that the work that you’re doing is connecting with people or will connect with people. I think that’s the hope that we all have.

When you look back on your career – on Sex Education, on your films – has there ever been a moment where you’ve felt like it’s all clicked for you? That sense that you’re in your element, things are working out, you’re on the right path?

Yeah, definitely. I think that feeling really comes with the team that I work with. The things that I’ve worked on from the ground up, that might start as a as a solo thing – with me alone in a room figuring it out – and then you start to build this team around you. Having the opportunity to work with people who are so talented and lending their skills to tell your story, and having that collaboration as well? For me, that feels like a real mark of success, to be able to work with the talents like that I work with.

It’s kind of similar with Sex Ed – it’s such as successful show, I think you can sometimes just feel when it’s working. The actors and team work really hard to find the things that people love about the show, but really push it in a direction that doesn’t feel repetitive. When you have those creative breakthroughs, when it feels like you’re finding something that is connected to the series and that evolved from it, that’s a that’s always an exciting discovery.

Was there anything you feel like you learned on Sex Education that you’ll take with you to future projects?

I think Sex Education is really different to anything that I’ve done before: stepping into pre-existing worlds really pushed me to find new and different skills that I hadn’t necessarily exercised before, [as did] working with a team that is a completely to me, even though they’ve all worked together. Stepping into an environment where you’re not building it from the ground up, you’re slotting in, I think that was something that was again really different. I’d gone from working with a smaller cast and more much more concentrated stories to working across multiple storylines with a larger cast.

But you know, the principle is still the same. It’s all still storytelling. I think that’s the thing – whether you’re making a short, whether you’re making a TV series or a film – the essence of it doesn’t change, but I think the way that you work really changes, and that’s something that, even now, I’m still learning new ways of working.

Is there anything you can tell us about what you’re working on next?

At the moment I’m working on Kaos, which is a Netflix show created and written by Charlie Covell. It’s a contemporary reimagining of Greek mythology – it’s got Charlie’s dark humour and wit and flair to it. I loved the scripts as soon as I read them, so that’s been incredible to be able to be a part of building that world and those characters, you know, what that space looks and feels like.

Then, I’ve got my debut feature Darkness Descends, which I’m doing with Film4 and my production company DessyMak productions. That’s a character study, set in the future, following a young Black British woman who suffers a significant loss – it’s a meditation on loss and on motherhood, and it draws inspiration from African mythology. Again, very different to Sex Education, very different from Kaos, and I think that feels quite natural to me as a creative – I always want to be doing something quite different to what I’ve done before.

This year’s BAFTA UK Breakthrough talent selection include director Alex Thomas (Yorkshire Cop: Police, Racism and Me), dialogue editor Alyx Jones (Elden Ring), actor Ambika Mod (This is Going to Hurt), director Chloë Fairweather (Dying to Divorce), cinematographer Diana Olifirova (Heartstopper), lead designer Emily Brown (Alba: a Wildlife Adventure), writer/executive producer Jack Rooke (Big Boys), composer Jamal Green (TOEM), producer Joanna Boateng (Uprising), actor Leon Harrop (Ralph & Katie), and writer/director Marley Morrison (Sweetheart).

They’re joined by principal technical artist Morag Taylor (Total War: Warhammer 3), actor Nell Barlow (Sweetheart), writer, executive producer, and actor Nicôle Lecky (MOOD), director Paul Sng (Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché), actor Rose Ayling-Ellis (Eastenders), director Runyararo Mapfumo (Sex Education), director Sophie Cunningham (Look Away), director Theo Williams (Terms & Conditions: Deeper than Drill), and co-founders, creative director, and artistic director Zachary Soares & Luciana Nascimento (Moonglow Bay).

The US cohort, meanwhile, includes director Alex Pritz (The Territory), actor Amrit Kaur (The Sex Lives of College Girls), actor Brandon Perea (NOPE), cinematographer Charlotte Hornsby (MASTER), director Clare Knight (Back to the Outback), cinematographer Daphne Qin Wu (The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster), director/writer Ellie Foumbi (Our Father, the Devil), games programmer Megan Fox (SkateBIRD), producer Melissa Adeyemo (Eyimofe), director Rebeca Huntt (Beba), composer Robert Ouyang Rusli (Test Pattern), and director So Yun Um (Liquor Store Dreams).