Kyle Lewis is a twenty-something film director with an eye for the visually weird. He’s worked with some of the biggest names on South Africa’s pop charts – Khuli Chana, Toya Delazy, The Parlotones, Haezer, Riky Rick, and Cassper Nyovest to name but a few. Although he’s always wanted to be a director, Kyle got involved in music videos as a way to be his own boss and create the kind of visuals he wanted. Since then he has founded his own company, Dirty Soul Productions, and since being represented by Arcade Content, has also had the opportunity to work on more commercials – something he says kills him, but a medium in which he finds his own artistic expression in regardless. Most recently he’s directed the Creativity Unites call for entries promo for the Loeries, a prestigious festival and award ceremony for the marketing, branding and advertising industries in Africa and the Middle East.
A screenshot from Kyle’s Loeries promo, released on 26 April 2016
Although young, Kyle is a well of wisdom, particularly pertaining to his role in post-apartheid South Africa, and as a youth in a burgeoning democracy.
“As a filmmaker, especially as a white male filmmaker, it’s important to not have a fear of offending because it’s going to happen irrespective of what you do – but also being sensitive to it,” he explains. “As your audiences grow and as you get more and more views and get taken more seriously there’s this responsibility to not just make froufrou things because we don’t need that. We need to make things that get people to think a little more. People are offended and don’t like my stuff sometimes and I get a lot of flack on social media sometimes, but I like that because people are at least talking about it. They’re bringing up the point that I’m trying to get across that might not have been perceived how I want it to be – but at least it’s a talking point.”
Now that we live in such a visually oriented world, the music video has become both a way of show off your filmmaking capabilities, as well as an art form of eclectic expression. Kyle, however, sees it as something he needs to do for his own sanity; to make sure he is “creating something completely artistic and out there, and have visuals that have a message, that say something.”
In South Africa, hip-hop music videos especially are very orientated towards European or American ideals. This is a sore point for Kyle, who believes the country has so much more to offer. “We have such incredibly strong visuals in our country that I’m trying to explore. It’s important to me that we can grow our industry to a certain point with foresight. I know it sounds strange, but I want to compete with the directors doing big things. It will make me better or make them better. And music videos have become an awesome way for young filmmakers to get exposure.” He uses a recent music video he’s done with De Les, yet to be released, as an example. “We did this whole thing on the revelation of what beauty is and how European influences have affected us so greatly. It was a whole ‘burn your bra’ type thing – burn your weave. They revealed their natural hair, which is beautiful, which is what we should be celebrating. When we realize that, we’ll realize how much cooler we actually are and how much more comfortable we are in our skins.”
Kyle and a crew member review footage for FUSEG
In 2014, he won the South African Music Video Award for Best Music Video for The Parlotone’s Sleepwalker, and was shortlisted again in 2015 for Tumi’s In Defence of my Art. Most recently, Kyle has been getting recognition through his work with award-winning rapper Riky Rick. The Riky Rick x Cassper Nyovest x Anatii FUSEG music video, released in 2015, is darkly abstract, with sepia tones and black-and-white visuals, and just enough normal to match the crazy…just enough normal to leave you questioning whether you saw anything strange at all. But just as film enthusiasts and critics alike were praising him for his hard-hitting work (it was the rapper’s first music video to top one million views on YouTube), Riky Rick released a 9-minute short film called Exodus – another astounding visual concept from Kyle.
A three-part short film culminating in a triumphant Riky Rick blessed by an eerie, landfill Sangoma of sorts, Exodus is a visual explosion of beauty, pain and bizarre Africana. It is designed to showcase five tracks from the award-winning rapper’s gold-selling album Family Values, but is also a bold move away from the conventional music video format – and one which Lewis has excelled in creating. It is a fresh, woke, and kaleidoscopic in its treatment, shying away from traditional hip-hop imagery.
The film sets up a fantasy story with Site C in Cape Town’s less than savoury neighbourhood of Khayelitsha as its gritty backdrop. Its use of effects is brilliant, as is the tight editing, hinting at a dark, pulsing and multi-faceted story at play just below the surface. The story comes to light over three chapters – Neverland, Rise and Power. Weaving a beautifully intricate musical tale, it opens with a Peter Pan daydream and culminates with Riky Rick swathed in Game of Thrones furs juxtaposed against a harsh background of rubbish dump filth.
A still from Exodus
Kyle believes that South Africa has the creative ability use this medium as an unadulterated art form. “I think music videos is the only medium with enough audiences for filmmakers to just play and be artistic and be free,” he explains, “You get a lot of videos that churn out that generic American thing, which is not necessarily a bad thing because it’s giving our film industry the technical knowhow. We could potentially be the country that makes the most artistic videos – our arts and even our music is really up there. It just makes sense that the music video would develop in that vein as well. Obviously the artists I work with are open to being like that.”