Wake The Town
Stuck in Motion
Contemplative Reptile
  • International Edition
  • USA Edition
  • UK Edition
  • Australian Edition
  • Canadian Edition
  • Irish Edition
  • German Edition
  • French Edition
  • Singapore Edition
  • Spanish edition
  • Polish edition
  • Indian Edition
  • Middle East edition
  • South African Edition

Uprising: Kyla Philander’s Considered Filmmaking Approach


The Eyeforce director shares the experience of growing up in South Africa, making a family on set and creating ‘work that feels healing’, writes LBB’s Nisna Mahtani

Uprising: Kyla Philander’s Considered Filmmaking Approach

“I come from a large family, working class roots with no inherited wealth, and my folks were both artists - my father more in the literal sense, a thespian, while my mother was more of a cerebral artist, my teacher in life,” says Kyla Philander. With parents who embraced creativity, you’d probably think it was inevitable that Kyla would end up going down the creative path, but when asked about any inklings, the answer wasn’t that simple.

“Inkling implies this kind of witnessing of a grand moment in which a mother watches her child transform into this wonderful auteur – I giggle thinking of the chaos my mother witnessed her children create - it wasn’t art, it was mess.” Yet there was certainly some inspiration there, “They [Kyla’s parents] carved out this space for themselves in the world and this way of thinking and living is all I really know.”

Buried in books and learning as a child, Kyla mentions the impact it had on them, “I wrote my name for the first time when I was two years old and it is a clear and distinct memory in my head.” There were also other hobbies which found a way into interest, such as the TV obsession that most teens develop, as well as people-watching to pass the time, “making up stories about the people who walked past, naming them, giving them backing stories,” sharing this hobby with their father.

Not lost on Kyla however, was the significance of having a mixed heritage and the role that played while living in Cape Town, South Africa. “I was raised in a multicultural home - I have mixed heritage but culturally identity with the ‘coloured’ people of South  Africa - an Apartheid term used to divide and conquer the Black population. Although borne out of the colonial nightmare, humanity prevailed and new customs and traditions are born within the constructs of oppressions, customs and traditions that colour my experience as a brown person in South Africa.”

They continue, “Of course, my culture plays into the person that I am, it has made me an enquirer, and a storyteller, and it has made me undesirable and desired. Where I come from, and the people who made me, are intrinsically linked to who I am. It’s the way I move, the volume of my voice, the way my hair curls, the way my spine curves, my swagger.”

With this persona, Kyla embarked on a journey towards becoming a director. “I went to film school but was kicked out for not paying my fees (student loans etc) but I really wanted a qualification so I did a performance diploma and partook in some live acting which was terrifying. I also spent time within student movements and began archiving moments of rebellion, softness and survival.”

It was with determination that they landed their first role as a model in a KFC ad during university, “It was so sweet because I was waitressing at the time and had never earned or thought to have that kind of money.” While that was the first opportunity, Kyla mentions how the following jobs were much more considered, “I’ve always been very intentional about working toward being a present, deliberate and impactful filmmaker. I’ve never really had the financial security of committing my life to art or solely being creative, I’ve worked in every film department (bar camera) in order to be in the position I am today.”

Kyla’s inspiration? It’s similar to that of poets and philosophers, but also daily life, “By working, falling in love, eating tinned fish, watching a YouTube video, watching an Ari Aster film, watching Yizo Yizo. I listen to music, sometimes it’s gospel on a Sunday, sometimes it’s deep house on a Saturday night. Getting to work, anytime I get to work, I get better.” And this also leads to the biggest lesson learnt thus far: “Your worth is NOT determined by people who refuse to see who you are.”

When it came to Kyla’s first campaign, it was certainly a baptism of fire with the cast’s age ranging from six months to nine years old, but it just felt right. “The second I put my foot on set, all my anxieties and fears melted away and I had never felt as safe as I did in that moment.” They then went on to do work for the beer brand Corona, telling the tale of a surfer growing up during Apartheid in South Africa. “The story felt extremely close and deeply personal to me for a magnitude of reasons. It felt like we tapped into a frequency that was very special for so-called coloured people.”  

Part of what makes Kyla passionate about what they do are the people behind the scenes, the experience they bring to the set and how it translates into a piece. “The interim families that crew become. The inspiring stories we get to tell. Meeting and sharing and laughing and crying at the beauty of humanity and telling its story.” However, there is a side to this that needs some work, “The diversity conversation irritates me because it’s insincere - my industry here loves to talk about empowering the marginalised but it’s very rare that any of the empowering is happening behind the camera.”

For this reason and many others, Kyla winds up being inspired by diverse creators in the space, “I love the idea of black and brown femmes, telling stories, making decisions about how popular culture moves forwards.” And while advertising is great, Kyla would also like to see more creative avenues for young filmmakers in their native South Africa, as well as “a sincere push  for change, not just window dressing, or hiring to tick a box, but a sincere and real investment in young folk who don’t come from privileged backgrounds.”

To support what they are passionate about, Kyla supports Friends of Friends film club, an organisation screening content by young filmmakers, and the Black Board Community, a non-profit organisation committed to transforming the creative industries. They also find inspiration in people who are changing the conversation, such as Rina Yang. “To see a WOC DOP be so meticulously good at her work, while still pushing for equity and women in the industry,  jumping genres - she is incredible.” They also mention author Jesse Armstrong and directors Ari Aster and David Cronenberg as inspirational figures.

When not honing their craft, you can find Kyla doing home workouts, “playing Fortnite, going to the beach, spending  time with people I love, eating good food and dancing.” And with a genuine want to leave a positive impact on the world, it’s no surprise that they leave us with this:

“I want to make work that feels healing, work that inspires people, intelligent work that elevates people's tastes.”

view more - Uprising
Sign up to our newsletters and stay up to date with the best work and breaking ad news from around the world.
Eyeforce, Fri, 02 Jun 2023 16:58:00 GMT