Lorde director turns camera on family story

By Lydia Jenkin

Joel Kefali and grandfather Sol, the subject of Loading Docs film, Dans.
Joel Kefali and grandfather Sol, the subject of Loading Docs film, Dans.

Joel Kefali cuts a relatively inconspicuous figure sitting amiably outside a Kingsland bar. He has three NZ Music Awards to his name, a NZ Film Award, plus a shout-out from Kanye West, and his work has been viewed hundreds of millions of times of Youtube, but he's not a familiar face to most -- he can sit happily in anonymity in his local neighbourhood.

That's because he's the man behind the camera - and the brain behind the concepts. Kefali is best known as a music video creator and director (Lorde, The Naked and Famous, Crowded House, David Dallas, The Mint Chicks, Tune-yards, Tame Impala, and Flying Lotus are among the many artists he's worked for), as well as turning his talents to commercial campaigns for Lexus, Hewlett Packard, and various other international brands, as one half of Special Problems, a small company he founded with fellow art school graduate Campbell Hooper in 2007.

Lorde's Royals was directed by Kefali

So on paper, he's a big shot, but in person he's a humble dude, and he's still just as keen on small personal projects as he is on making music videos for stars.

Which brings us to Dans, a three-minute short film he's made as part of a new short film initiative called Loading Docs, which is encouraging local directors to make small nuggets of entertainment that can capture imaginations, even in the age of fast distractions, and watching everything on your phone.

Kefali is one of 10 film-makers whose projects were given $2500 (via NZ On Air and the New Zealand Film Commission), plus the support, and a platform to crowdfund a further $2000, to help bring their short film idea to life.

"Three minutes is a great duration for testing an idea out, and it means there can be an experimental aspect to these films. They can be quite poetic and impressionistic. And three minutes is kind of a sweet spot for people watching things online, it's not too big a commitment while you're sitting at your desk having a coffee break," he explains.

The Naked and Famous' Young Blood was directed by Kefali

The only brief the film-makers were given was the word "home", and as you can read below, the interpretations of that have been wide-ranging. Kefali decided to build his film around the memories of his Turkish immigrant grandfather Sol, and his early experiences in New Zealand.

"Home is a great word to respond to, whether it's comfortable or uncomfortable. Being a refugee, just by its very nature, means you're lacking a home, and are now trying to find one or create one somewhere else, and I think that fascinated me, and that's what the story is about."

Dans means dance in Turkish, and refers to one of his grandfather's favourite recollections, about dances at the Orange Hall on Newton Rd, a gathering place for many refugees when he arrived in the early 1950s.

"There was a boat called the Goya which brought quite a lot of early generations of Middle Eastern and Eastern European communities to New Zealand. Along with his friends, Sol helped to build the first mosque in Ponsonby, and was part of that early Muslim community.

"The Orange dance hall was another place where people gathered and socialised - it was just what people did. And it was where he met my grandmother, who is a Kiwi."

Kefali has taken his grandfather's stories and animated them, to create a colourful, poignant three minutes that mixes the past with the present.

"I guess the way I do stuff - it's a mixture of hand drawn and computer manipulated, or computer drawn animation, so I guess it's a bit of a weird bastardised style of taking different methods and techniques in a kind of collage.

"I wanted to use the animation and music to help explain the shift in his life, that kind of juxtaposition of those two worlds and two homes - Turkey and New Zealand."

You can tell Kefali has relished the opportunity to work on such a personal, self-driven project, and to showcase his own storytelling abilities.

"I'm so used to working creatively but often at the mercy of someone else, whether that's a band or a record label or a brand, or an agency, it's freeing to be able to make something where the creative decisions end with me. It's quite scary and exciting at the same time."

Whether this is a step towards more feature length film-making, or more shorts (Special Problems also made a stunning short film called Echoes last year), Kefali sees them all as an opportunity to hone skills, and hopefully to make an impact on an audience.

"You're still telling stories in some way, you're trying to keep an audience captived and connected over a period of time, and those are skills required no matter what medium you're working in."

Loading Docs:

Dans
Director: Joel Kefali
Producer: Amber Easby
An animated collection of memories from Kefali's Turkish grandfather, who moved to New Zealand as a refugee in the 1950s. Watch it here.

Catkiller
Director: Aidee Walker
Producer: Alexander Gander
In the past year, 30 cats have disappeared from Raglan, some later found dead, wrapped in plastic. The quest is on to find the cat killer.

Homing
Director: Andrew Scott
This peaceful work takes the viewer on a journey through a New Zealand home on a summer day, contemplating what we choose to have in our homes. See it here.

Living Like Kings
Director: Zoe McIntosh
The Christchurch earthquake created a unique opportunity for a small group of homeless people - a new taste of luxurious living.

Queer Selfies
Director: Robyn Paterson
Producer: Paula Boock
In a private tent at Auckland's Big Gay Out festival, a diverse range of individuals share stories of home.

Stop/Go
Director: Greg Jennings
Producer: Jack Nicol
Veteran Stop/Go sign worker shares his view of the Mackenzie Country, whether it be in scorching sunlight or sideways snowfall.

The Jump
Director: Alex Sutherland
Producer: Rebekah Kelly
This documentary reveals unearthed footage from bungy jump beginnings in 1980, and tells the tale of its unsung creator Chris Sigglekow.

The Road to Whakarae
Directors: Tim Worrall and Aaron Smart
Deep in the Urewera Ranges, Maori elder Beam Titoko puts on his cowboy hat, grabs his guitar, and sings a song of home.

Today
Directors: Prisca Bouchet and Nick Mayow
Today follows the residents and workers of a South Auckland rest home, offering an intimate insight into a place that many call home.

Wayne
Directors: Kristy Griffin and Vivienne Kernick
Wayne has limited communication skills, but when it comes to love he has a few ideas of his own, which friend and support worker Nigel tries to help him with.

Lowdown
Who: Joel Kefali
What: Loading Docs project of 10 short films, including Joel Kefali's film Dans.
When and where: Premiere screening of all films at Academy Cinemas on Tuesday May 27, plus they'll be available to view and share at www.loadingdocs.net, or you can head to nzherald.co.nz/loadingdocs from Wednesday morning.

- NZ Herald

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