Chit Chat: Charlie Vundla

Filmmaker Charlie Vundla’s How to Steal 2 Million – a gritty drama about two former partners-in-crime – competes at this year’s Durban International Film Festival. Gayle Edmunds asks him about the film industry, his famous father and his first feature-length project.

Why did you decide to make this film in Joburg instead of your native New York?
I knew I’d have a greater chance of getting it funded, with assistance from the government, and I’d also have easier access to a talented cast and crew.

What are some of your favourite films in the crime thriller genre and what do you like to watch in your spare time?

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Thief, Get Carter the original, Blood Simple and Little Odessa. I watch everything in my spare time when it comes to movies. I’m a cinephile who loves every genre and type of film. I also love TV shows like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire.

What is the most important ­element of the filmmaking ­process to have in place before the cameras roll?

That includes every aspect of the filmmaking process from script development and pre-production, to shooting, editing, grading and scoring the film. Everything is important.

What was the most valuable ­lesson you learned while making low-budget films for DVD and TV that you have applied to How to Steal 2 Million?

Making a film is difficult, no matter what the scale; the process is more or less the same no matter how much money you have or don’t have. Not having money teaches you to be creative in getting what you want as opposed to being lazy and throwing money at the problem. This is an invaluable skill.

Your dad, Mfundi Vundla, is a legend of South African television. Has this been a help or hindrance in establishing yourself in the same industry?

It’s 100% been a help. I’ve essentially joined the family business, which has given me immediate access to talent that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, as well as knowledge of the process that would have taken much longer to gain had my family not been involved in film and television. My mother and father have been my greatest blessing.

Your cast is a who’s who of South African talent. Did you have the likes of John Kani, Terry Pheto and Rapulana Seiphemo in mind when you were writing the script?

No, I didn’t. I’d never worked with any of them previously so I would have been very optimistic or foolish to do so. But they quickly inhabited my characters and made them their own.

Your representation of Joburg is sexy, seedy and dangerous. What, for you, is the most seductive thing about the city?
I think Joburg is a land of opportunity. If you have the wherewithal and the endeavour, you can accomplish anything. That’s why I’m here.

Your film makes some very bold statements about committing crime and getting away with it. Are you comfortable with the “crime pays” message that runs through the film?

The whole “crime pays” tag line has been used in the marketing of the film. However, I would argue that when the credits roll no one has benefited from crime in the movie. And the people who may have benefited paid a dear price.

So there are always consequences to one’s actions and this basic principle applies to the storyline of my movie as well.
On the local film scene, what are a few of your favourites and why?

Neil Blomkamp, John Barker and Oliver Hermanus have all done great work. They tell personal, entertaining stories. Those dudes have balls.

Why did you decide to have the premier at the Durban International Film Festival and what are some of the other films on the programme you are looking forward to seeing?

We decided to have the film’s opening bow at this festival because it lines up well with the film’s domestic release, and it’s the premiere film festival in South Africa. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing The Tree of Life.

» The festival begins on Thursday, July 21. Vundla’s film How to Steal 2 Million screens at Nu Metro Suncoast on Friday at 8.15pm

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