#BonfireStories — Introducing Filmmaker, writer and producer Kelley Kali
1. When it comes to storytelling, where do you get your inspiration from?
My dad was an African America Baptist Pastor born in Alabama. So I grew up hearing stories be told by my dad across the pulpit and in the home. Thus, storytelling has been an integral part of my life. I was able to see how dad used biblical stories and personal stories surrounding his life to reach the hearts of his congregation which often helped to influence positive changes in their lives. Witnessing this power of storytelling over the years, I knew that I wanted to be like my father but I wanted to use film as my storytelling tool. I believe that despite all of our differences, storytelling through film has always been a powerful resource in order to break barriers and reach hearts through imagery.
2. What was the inspiration behind directing and producing your recent film Lalo’s House?
My background is in Anthropology and Film from Howard University and one of my main interests had always been about children’s rights and living conditions around the world. I was studying this issue in Haiti before the earthquake and when the earthquake happened in 2010 I went back to help. It was then that I caught wind of a “Catholic” orphanage where there was a woman allegedly posing as a nun was allowing foreign men to pay and sleep with the young girls in the orphanage. I began investigating this over several years and it was this footage that gained me acceptance into the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. It was at USC where I was encouraged by faculty and friends to turn this true story into a fictional narrative inspired by a series of those events. I followed their guidance and created, Lalo’s House. It was great having this wonderful script but we still needed to fundraise to be able to film in Haiti. We started a crowd funder and raised a third of the necessary funds but it wasn’t until I was able to reach Garcelle Beauvais and her producing partner, Lisa L. Wilson, where with the help of their friends, we were able to raise the remaining funds needed to film in Haiti.
3. Tell us about being vulnerable in your work? Do you think there’s a line?
I think that as an artist your work can easily become a part of you and you become a part of your work. So, with this knowledge, you do have to walk a line when covering subject matters that are dreadful such as child trafficking. This is a dark space to dive into to daily while writing and eventually directing. However, what kept me going is knowing that there are so many people who are going through these pains caused by trafficking and abuse every day so I can have the endurance to help share these stories to hopefully educate and protect others. I find it important for us as artists to be willing to go to those unattractive places in our storytelling to help address these often unspoken issues, hold conversations about the taboo, and hopefully, the art can be used to help begin the healing process for those who need to heal.
4. How did you feel about being a finalist and then winning the student academy awards?
It was one of the greatest blessings to be recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for our film, Lalo’s House. To have worked on this subject matter of child trafficking for almost a decade and to have that work be uplifted by filmmakers who I have been looking up to my whole life only further validated, to me, that following your heart and listening to the guidance of our creator is important no matter how long or how out of reach your goal may feel. Trust in the process.
5. When did you realize you wanted to be a Filmmaker? Was there an exact moment, or was it more gradual?
My background is in Anthropology but specifically in Archaeology. I used to excavate ancient Mayan sites in the rainforest of Belize to Buffalo Soldier sites in the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas. One summer while conducting an excavation, I became more captivated with the film crew that was there to document us. Since I knew a lot about the archaeology dig, I helped them to conduct interviews and organize the questioning for their documentary which I was then credited as an Associate Producer. Later that documentary went on to win awards and it was then that I knew that I really enjoyed the process of filmmaking. Later I received an internship at National Geographic Television and Film and it was there where I realized that I could combine my interest in world issues with the entertainment of filmmaking. I had found what I loved.
6. What is the toughest challenge you’ve faced so far?
The toughest challenge has been sticking to what I am passionate about. I began investigating this story about the nun trafficking children almost 10 years ago and it was hard during those years to feel like this would ever become a film that could get the word out to the masses about this issue. It was challenging to believe that people even cared about the issue. Some people would express concern about the little girls who were being harmed in Haiti but no one would step up to the plate to help me bring awareness. It wasn’t until I attended the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts where I was then able to find a tribe of filmmakers who believed in this cause and stepped up to help make this happen. Then, with the help of my new team, we were able to gain the support of Actress and Producer, Garcelle Beauvais and her producing partner, Lisa L. Wilson, who then helped us gain the funding to film in Haiti. Yes, it was challenging to believe that I was doing the right thing all of those years but it was in my heart and thank God I persevered which lead me to my tribe where together we helped influence change over child trafficking legislation in New York and helped bring more awareness and safety precautions to school children in Haiti.
7. What would you say is your unique responsibility as a filmmaker?
I feel that I have the responsibility to make sure that any story I choose to tell be purposeful and influence positive change. I wish to use my art to impact the hearts of others in order to move us to uplift one another.
8. What’s next for you?
I’ve signed with Creative Artists Agency and now I’m writing a few projects while considering some others to direct. I’m looking forward to directing my first feature film in the next year or so.
How can others reach out to you and/or stay informed about your upcoming projects?