His latest work just premiered on Amazon Prime. As if that's not enough to make any storyteller dance, his movie, which shows the lives of creatives in the middle of a pandemic, has already won awards.
Filmmaker Charlie Vundla's latest offering is Hotel on the Koppies and went live on Amazon Prime on 27 May and has already won the Best Film prize at the Sabira Cole Film Festival and was nominated for three Africa Movie Academy Awards: Best Film in an African Language, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Cameron Scott) and Best Soundtrack (Caminauta & Raul Tizze).
He's no stranger to making waves in the industry after his award winning How to Steal Two Million and also being the man behind Cuckhold.
His new work is more than a film; it is a testament to the human spirit and a reflection on this time of stagnation, he says.
"We were able to turn the lens inwards, try something different, and authentically portray the lives of Black South African artists in a way that is not usually seen on screen."
He was born into a family of creatives. His father is Mfundi Vundla, the man behind some of South Africa's most loved soapies.
Charlie tells Drum how he came up with the idea of this feature film which was originally titled Hotele Lerallaneng. It is set in the heart of a creative hub in Melville Joburg.
He says the film is inspired by his life circumstances and the great challenges of creating during the global pandemic when it seemed impossible to do anything. He says the goal for this film was to create something authentic that people, especially creatives, can identify with and see themselves within it.
And this came about because of the limitations he was dealing with when shooting the film.
“I hadn’t made a film for about four or five years at the time. And it was an extremely frustrating, lots of my other projects hadn’t been coming to fruition and I just wanted to do something. In February 2020 I was lucky enough to be part of the Berlin Film Festival talents, which is a program at the Berlin Film Festival where that brings in a group of young filmmakers from around the world and give them masterclasses. When I was at the festival, I got to see so many movies and really small independent movies that are strongly felt and authentic that inspired me.”
Charles says when he came back to Joburg in March 2020, he just had decided that he had to do something.
"It didn’t have to be big. I recognized that it was going to be a low-budget film but I kind of embraced the challenge and knew the sacrifice it required but I did it any way," he tells Drum.
The pandemic hit but that didn’t discourage him. He recognized it for what it was, a very unique opportunity to present the black South African experience through this very unique lens of the pandemic, shutdowns, economic crisis, and everything that came along with the pandemic. That is where the idea of the movie came from.
The film follows the life of Jabu, a young artist and a novelist who has writer's block. He's struggling with his next big project as well as his other addictions like alcohol and drugs but he is newly clean.
“He is coming back to Joburg to make amends with his young son and turn over a new leaf as a father. The issue is his estranged wife wants to take their son to Europe on a work trip that will potentially last for six months, maybe longer. Jabu potentially losing his son throws his sobriety and his future life plans into jeopardy,” Charles says.
He says the story overlaps with the second lead character, who is a young filmmaker named Roxanne who is just on the cusp of breaking into the mainstream. She just signed on with a directing agency in Hollywood and is signed on to direct a big-budget film but she just found out that she is pregnant from a one-night stand.
“She is caught between conflicting the mends of motherhood, and career and questions herself if she could do both. These two stories are unfolding against the backdrop of the pandemic, and both of them are quarantined in a boutique hotel in the Melville Koppies,” he says.
As a creative he also relates to these stories, he says the road is not always rosy and some challenges need to be met head on.
He's overjoyed that his film is premiering on a global platform like Amazon Prime Video.
“This is a dream come true. When my collaborators and I set out to make this film during the hard lockdown of 2020, we became this creative, scrappy, problem-solving family. I made this film with my friends and family. And now, to take it worldwide on such a magnificent platform is something everyone who took part in it can be very proud of,” says the filmmaker.
He says this kind of recognition helps keep artists going in these dark times knowing that they can get their work on a platform like this.
He says the film was a true work of independent cinema, it was financed largely by himself and they had no government support or big companies behind them.
“There was no licensing deal ahead of time, this film was made purely out of love and there were no guarantees that anything could come of it. If it was a bad movie, it could’ve just died on my computer and no one would know that it existed except for my friends and family. The fact that it’s been picked up for worldwide distribution by Amazon Prime Video is a real validation of the risk we took and the validation of their trust in me and their faith in the project.”