Armoury sat down with director Zandi Tisani to discuss her current influences and her strengths in reflecting on social complexities and capturing the zeitgeist while offering cool and considered entertainment.
Q: How are you? Are you enjoying the Southern Hemisphere winter…?
Zandi: I’d say I’m pretty good! Winter hasn’t fully struck as yet although the slight chill definitely points to its imminent return 🙂
Q: What’s keeping you (creatively) warm at the moment?
Zandi: I’d say going back to my screenwriting roots and exploring opportunities to engage with creative at a much earlier stage than directors in the commercial world are accustomed to!
Locally, signs point to a shift to how creative is developed and awarded and overall I think it’s a really good thing. Sometimes the current model feels a bit archaic and I’m a person motivated by pushing the needle. With the speed that trends change, particularly amongst younger audiences, I anticipate there being more of a need for people who are engaged with these changing trends and have the skillset to respond swiftly and effectively. It’s part of why I spend so much of my time scouring the internet and staying on top of what is happening in pop culture, locally and abroad I’m able to offer genuine insights and experiences without having to rely on external research which almost always lacks the nuance you need to make the work feel authentic.
Q: There is something inherently political about some of your work – while being far from cynical in tone. How do you source and sew this optimism/lifeblood in your work?
Zandi: I don’t know if I consider myself an inherently ‘political’ person. To me, it’s just reading the room and responding accordingly. I think there’s a lot that goes into trying to distract us away from the things that matter and I just try to stay present and aware.
Q: A lot of your work centres the cultural zeitgeist – can you tell us a bit about how that’s come to be and what it means to you?
Zandi: I’m very much a typical millennial who grew up watching what I would consider the height of the music video era and also casually watching some of the most legendary commercials of our time. I think I took it for granted, and yet those images are ingrained in my DNA and I hope to bring back that level of attention to detail, courage and experimentation to my filmmaking career.
Q: How important is it for you to represent the young pan-African experience in your work?
Zandi: I’m proud of where I’m from and I see immense value in my experience which may or may not reflect the experiences of other Africans. We are not a homogenous mass so that isn’t really a goal of mine.
Q: Oftentimes your work centres around a strong black female protagonist – How important to you is the portrayal of the character/archetype?
Zandi: Honestly, not that important anymore. Sure I consider myself a strong black woman but we should also consider that this trope can be a burden that doesn’t do anything to alleviate the problems black women face daily. I want to represent all kinds of people and I find the current state of identity politics can be quite limiting and to be honest, cheesy in that regard. We come in many shapes and sizes, all of which are legitimate and worth celebrating.
Q: For the Brand SA project, there’s a kaleidoscope of imagery shown to us. What was your main inspiration for collating that imagery together?
Zandi: A lack of time and resources! We had very little time and a limited budget and the final product (something I’m proud of), came as a result of creatively navigating these limitations. I love dealing with archive, a passion developed in my documentary work and because I already had experience using archive, I was able to dip into it quite quickly and reimagine it for a contemporary audience.
Q: What was it like working on the Spotify Heat project and so closely with dance and music? Is this a field of film that piques your interest?
Zandi: Spotify was interesting because about 90% of that shoot was directed remotely. It was during the height of Covid so travelling to each territory wasn’t possible. Dance and music has always been prominent in my career. My Red Bull documentary, the work I did with YouTube and MTV Base for Africa Day and the Kamo Mphela video I made for NTS have become landmarks in the development of my career.
Q: To continue off of that project, the musicality and choreographic nature in your work with Dark & Lovely stands out particularly to me. How was that captured on screen?
Zandi: It took quite a bit of planning and clay models to map out our shots. I’m quite a tactile person so having the opportunity to build mini models of the final product helped me firstly explain to the team what I was trying to achieve and secondly practically visualise what our sequence of shots would be.
Q: What about the UK/US markets excites you and what do you feel makes you a good fit for making work within them?
Zandi: Most of what inspires me from the universe of contemporary popular culture is actually coming out of the US and UK. Also, because of the size of those markets – what some may call ‘niche’ interests still have a viable and sizeable following. The black directors/creators I admire in terms of idea and execution still largely come out of these two territories.
Q: Is there a specific project or goal that’s spurring your directing forward right now?
Zandi> I’m about to start a documentary about one of South Africa’s most exciting fine artists with the Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa). It’s a project close to my heart and I look forward to being able to express myself and their vision visually, in a way I don’t always get to explore in my commercial work. For example having enough time to work with subjects/cast to get the most out of their time on camera, favouring strong storytelling over a complete reliance on data and the creative space to devise unique compositions to create an effective piece of communication that also stands apart from what we are used to seeing.
Q: What are you looking forward to in coming months?
Zandi: I’m looking forward to showing what can be possible in the commercial space through my personal projects.
Overall I feel like visuals have become repetitive and stagnant and it may take inspiration from other fields to get us back on track. That’s why I pay attention to other art forms, because I feel I learn something about my own craft. Fashion designers have to deal with a similar balance of creating something fresh and exciting, that ultimately needs to sell product. I find musicians particularly good at staying in touch with their audience and building loyalty. Fine artists remind me of the importance of holding on to my personal voice and vision, I could go on but I think you get my point.
You can find Zandi’s unique and urgent work here.