SA director's debut is star of the show at film awards

Charlie Vundla picks up Best Director and Best Film for 'How To Steal 2 Million' at the Africa Movie Academy Awards
 Charlie Vundla

Outside the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, African filmmakers are vying to make their mark on the movie scene.

And for many, attempting to make a film in the saturated US market is something that does not appeal. South African-raised Charlie Vundla is one of those. He just scooped the Africa Movie Academy Award (AMAA) for Best Director for his debut film ‘How To Steal 2 Million’.

The flim noir thriller was also named Best Film at Africa’s version of the Oscars. South African actress Terry Pheto was named Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film, which also won Best Achievement in Editing (Garreth Fradgely). Winning four awards of a possible 11 it was nominated for, ‘How To Steal 2 Million’ was the most awarded film on the night.

Vundla’s film depicts a young man struggling to adapt after being released from prison for a five-year sentence for robbery. His partner in crime and best friend, Twala, never got caught and Jack never talked, only to marry Jack’s ex-fiancee while he is behind bars. The two ex-partners are forced to team up one last time when the payoff is too big to ignore.

Vundla, a native of New York City, moved to Johannesburg as a boy before returning to the US to complete a degree in Journalism at George Washington University in Washington DC. His career began as a professional soccer reporter, covering matches across the South African domestic league.

Having spent a year writing scripts for television, Vundla enrolled in the graduate film production programme at the University of Southern California, the country’s highest ranked film school at the time. After a year, Vundla left to start up his own low-budget production company to make films that went straight to DVD and television which he did for 18 months before leaving to focus on How To Steal 2 Million.

“Although it’s set in a city with no name, I fully embraced the location of modern day Johannesburg and South Africa through an ironic, witty take on the city of gold and the country as a whole,” says Vundla.

“I feel that a South African filmmaker ignores the realities of this country at his peril. At that same time an un-nuanced portrayal risks becoming a caricature, so I’ve chosen to embrace the realities of this world in a darkly comic, subtle way.”

“The movie I’ve made is a dark, operatic, tense, moody, unsentimental tale that I hope viewers will find appealing in terms of character, scenario and aesthetics,” judging by the plaudits it has received, Vundla seems to have achieved his goal.

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