Helen Herimbi catches up with her to find out more.
In a year that was so tough for the advertising industry that some companies shut down, Keitumetse “Director Kit” Qhali has had a consistent run of head-turning work, but the director and writer who made the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 list didn’t stay in the ad lane this year.
You started the year with an SA Film and Television Awards nomination for your documentary series Ties That Bind Us.
Yes! That was actually one of the more difficult projects I’ve had to work on. It was based on the three theses written by historian Tariq Mellet. It was a two-year project, so to finally see it come to fruition was amazing. And then to get recognised for it … When you’ve worked for so long on a challenging project, industry recognition is satisfying because it feels like people are watching.
This year we also got a residency with Hot Docs for my documentary Soweto Spinning. It’s about the culture of spinning cars in South Africa.
Hot Docs chooses about six projects from around Africa. The residency was supposed to be in Toronto, Canada, but the year did what it did.
We did it remotely and we had access to European and American broadcast executives, writers and producers who became mentors. That experience lasted the whole year.
You’ve been a sought-after advert director for a long time now. Was your advertising work affected by the pandemic?
I’ve been in commercials for close to three years and for the first year and half I was just losing pitches. There was a point when I sat down with my producers at Darling Films because I thought they were going to end their contract with me and they thought I was going to end my contract with them.
We all ended up crying because we discovered we were still on the same page, even when it was a difficult process. Then earlier this year I got to work on a Ricoffy ad about pride. The story was between a mother and daughter, and showed how the nurturer and helper roles in a relationship can change over time.
I based it on my relationship with my mom. After that commercial came out, everything accelerated and moved very quickly. I started winning a lot of pitches. It was a real game-changer for me.
Tell us about your work with Netflix.
Netflix gave us creative freedom to write the script for and shoot a statement project that encompassed all the projects it was signing. It had to speak on an emotional level about what it means to be an African creative.
The result was Made by Africa for Africans. Writing the script from scratch and seeing the amazing talents executing that script was humbling. I also got to do the commercials for the PR trailers for Jiva! as well as Blood and Water.
You, Thuli Madonsela, Nomzamo Mbatha and 10 others were immortalised in Facebook Africa’s Inspiring Change-makers book this year.
The book is a look at some of the challenges we’ve faced and how we overcame them, and it’s designed for young, female creatives. The question was: What would I tell the younger version of myself?
It was a surprise to be included because my year was already going so well. I was like: ‘Ok, universe, I see you, I receive, I am grateful.’
You directed the Afropunk virtual concert performed by Zambian-Australian artist Sampa the Great.
I started my career doing music videos and when Sampa sent me the brief for this, she had five music videos on it.
I was like, ‘this girl is crazy’ [laughs]. She needed a treatment for it within 48 hours, and I have to thank the team at Darling because the budget was small, but we shot five music videos in one day.
We shot it like it was a concert and she performed everything live. I enjoyed it because I had total creative freedom. It’s one of my favourite projects of the year because I got to play around and go back to my roots.
It even got fan art from Japan, and since it came out I’ve had international briefs coming in. It’s been a really nice way to balance out the kind of work I’ve been doing this year.