Charlie Samson, 27, directed the film ‘A Lament’, which takes viewers on a poignant visual journey – and the up-and-coming filmmaker is only just beginning.
By: Thanduxolo ‘Thandz’ Buti
Main image: Supplied/Charlie Samson
This digital era has produced a new crop of talented black filmmakers who are not scared to break all the rules. Digital platforms like YouTube, Netflix, and Showmax have also helped cultivate a new breed of fearless storytellers; who create outside the traditional TV formula.
Charlie’s visual film, A Lament (2021), is an example of what can be achieved in the local film industry if black storytellers were allowed to tell their stories outside the traditional broadcast formula.
The film is an ode to black love and shows the nuances of young love.
“The film was inspired by a bunch of films [that I love] and my life,” he tells us during a Zoom call. “It is loosely based on a past relationship which ended because I had to leave KwaZulu Natal (KZN) to pursue my dreams.
“The film intends to showcase the technical side of filmmaking – the visuals – because my previous work was not as strong visually. There are two versions of the film, the visual film and the feature film, which we hope to send to film festival festivals. I am proud of this and everyone who was part of it delivered.”
Watch A Lament:
Born and raised in Richards Bay, KwaZulu Natal, the actor, writer and director says he fell in love with the art of storytelling by chance. He was raised by his father and his first mother (stepmother) in Richards Bay. But when he failed grade 9, a fallout with his father would see him move to KwaMsane, Mtubatuba, to stay with his biological mother.
“That was one of the darkest moments in my life because we were struggling and I no longer had access to the finer things in life, like your Playstation, DStv and my own room,” he recalls. “I began dreaming about a way out, and storytelling allowed me to dream. Writing became my escape.
“I researched TV & film, and I learned a lot. At first, I wanted to be an actor, but I realised that actors are the last piece of the puzzle; the director, producers and writers are the brains behind the production. I fell in love with directors like Angus Gibson, from Bomb Productions, who helped create productions like Yizo Yizo and Isibaya, which had a great impact on me as a storyteller.”
However, with the steep fees of film school, Charlie could not pursue filmmaking and opted to study drama at City Varsity, Johannesburg. During his years as a drama student, he would teach himself how to direct and write scripts. For one of the school projects, he created his first play The Kaffirs, which got him his first break in the theatre industry.
“The Kaffirs was a class project. I was supposed to act in it, but I realised a classmate was better for the part. I settled for a role behind the scenes – directing in the background. It later dawned on me that I was directing my first production.”
He continues: “My lecturer saw potential in the project and asked me to turn it into a full production. I went back and rewrote and restructured the script. It made it into the iShashalaza Theatre Festival and scored five nominations (including best script and best director), winning for best play, best actor and actress in leading roles. That allowed us to go and perform at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (now Makhanda), where we won the Standard Bank Ovation Award.
After his success in theatre, Charlie was chosen to be part of the prestigious Multichoice Talent Factory Academy Programme. Sixty aspiring TV and film content creators from across Africa are hand-picked for a 12-month extensive training in film and television production. Being part of the programme would help solidify him as one of the young filmmakers to watch in Africa.
“I learned a lot from that experience, and I also got to direct my first Mzansi Magic movie made for TV, Ngeculo, starring acting veterans Sello Maake Ka Ncube and Tina Jaxa,” he beams with pride.
“That movie was well received and was in the top 20 of the most viewed movies on the channel. I then made another film for Mzansi, which I consider my best work, called Uzobuya, starring Yonda Thomas. The film was about a stay-at-home father, and I think it was one of my finest works. It started an important dialogue and made people feel. That’s what I strive for as a storyteller.”
Watch the trailer for Uzobuya:
In 2021, Charlie also turned his short film Toxic into a web series, starring Lunga Luchy Mofokeng, famous for his role as Andile on 1Magic’s The River. But he admits that he was still developing his visual aesthetic as a filmmaker and was not fully satisfied with the result. While he is grateful for the knowledge he amassed from directing movies made for TV, indie films remain his main inspiration.
“Movies made for TV pay the bills. However, making those movies can be hard because there is no full creative control,” he explains.
“Unfortunately, those movies are sometimes not taken too seriously and budget is limited. You have to create within certain borders and follow a certain formula because it is for TV. Doing indie films can also be challenging financially, but can be very rewarding creatively. It can teach you so much about the kind of storyteller you want to be. Indie films are to directors what theatre is to actors – very necessary. My dream is to make one indie film a year even when I have made it as a director.”
With the local film and TV industries still relatively small and showing slight growth over the years, filmmakers still struggle to score a break. Charlie admits that it is a blessing to be a working filmmaker as it is a norm to spend months without work. However, he wants to stay true to his vision till the end.
“I have structure for my career, and I want to stick to it as much as possible,” he adds. “I want my portfolio to be like a music album – something that resembles an album tracklist. I want to make about 12 feature films that all live in the same universe but stand out individually. I want to bring an element of surprise to the industry. I want my work to say and something.”