Interview with Filmmaker Vicki Kisner, Sheila, Drama at ASFF 2015

Directed by Vicki Kisner, Sheila follows the story of a domestic worker in South Africa. She fears asking her controlling boss for time off to go to a wedding and cooks up a lie about her grandmother’s funeral, but this lie soon escalates. Shot in Johannesburg, the short drama offers a reflection on life in South Africa. Kisner’s film, which won the Emerging Talent Award at the British Urban Film Festival earlier this month, screens in the Aesthetica Short Film Festival drama reel 3 on Thursday 5 – Sunday 8 November. We speak to the filmmaker about her cinematic style and ongoing journey as a female director in the film industry.

ASFF: Sheila is being screened at four film festivals this year, including the Aesthetica Short Film Festival. What does it mean to you to receive so much recognition for your graduation film?
VK: Sheila was an incredibly ambitious project, which we shot in Johannesburg in South Africa where I was born. I am over the moon that it has been invited to screen at such wonderful, prestigious festivals. Durban International Film Festival is one I am especially pleased about as it is one of the biggest festivals in South Africa and it means a lot that my film has been screened in my home country. I’m also really proud to have been invited to screen at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival as it’s a BAFTA qualifying festival and one that encourages emerging talent and celebrates the short film medium.

ASFF: What inspired you to capture the film in its particular style? Do you have a preferred approach to cinematography or do you like to experiment?
VK: The cinematographer Matthew and I spend a lot of time planning our shots and the way we want our films to look (we have made four short films together now). We are both strong believers in the camera moving for a reason so try to avoid ostentatious camera moves just for the sake of it. We have the same planning process when discussing lighting. We decided to go for mainly natural light and feel this choice really serves our story. We are still open to experimentation but this would be after realising a shot isn’t working as well as we had hoped from our initial plan.

ASFF: You directed your first short film Charlie Boy in 2013. How has your work developed since then and why is short film important to you?
VK: Charlie Boy was a great achievement but my story telling and directing abilities have improved vastly since then. I have a greater understanding of how to direct actors and feel I am able to elicit much more subtle and nuanced performances. I also feel like my story telling abilities, attention to detail, understanding of camera movement and editing is on a different level.
Short film is important to me as it’s a very unique medium that enables one to build confidence. By making short films I am able to learn my craft and it allows me the freedom to try new things with a view to directing longer form in the not too distant future. My first short film was actually called Human Territory, which I made in 2001. It screened at Raindance film Festival and at the Broadcast Awards where I was nominated in the Best New Director Category in 2003.

ASFF: As a director, what advice can you offer to future filmmakers starting out?
VK: I have worked in the industry for over 15 years in both development and production and this has been invaluable in giving me an understanding of how filmmaking and the industry works as a whole. However, my main advice to filmmakers is to make as many films as possible and never give up your dreams. For women directors my advice would be is to believe in yourself and don’t let anyone make you feel like you aren’t worthy. I also think it’s vitally important to have an understanding of your craft by watching films and reading as many scripts as you can get your hands on.

ASFF: This year you won the British Urban Film Festival’s Emerging Talent Award. What does this accolade mean to you?
VK: Winning the Emerging Talent Award at BUFF was a very special moment for me. Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe who is the founder of the festival has been incredibly supportive of my work and it was just lovely to get some recognition and be included in such an important festival that encourages diversity. I was also really proud to win because I am a female director and there aren’t many of us in the industry at large and I want to contribute to changing those disgraceful figures and lack of opportunities.
I have worked for many years in the film and television industry facilitating other people’s visions. My desire to direct never went away and now I am finally making my own films so it’s incredibly important to get this kind of accolade and build on my career from there.

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Credits
1. Sheila, Vicki Kisner