We’re excited to welcome director Charlene van Kasteren, otherwise known as CHAKA, to the Mr.Frank ranks.

Charlene began her creative trajectory studying Lifestyle Design and Audio Visuals at the Art Academy in Rotterdam. Moving through several roles before settling into a directorial position, CHAKA has referred to her mixed cultural background – Dutch and Indonesian – as a source of inspiration for the type of stories she wants to tell. 

When we asked – How would you describe your directing style? – CHAKA explained that “concept is everything”, driven as she is by the desire to distill stories to their true essence. 

And how do you stay so grounded? By embracing experimentation over perfection, and valuing the type of work relationships that allow you to always be yourself. 

To make this a proper introduction, we got her to answer a few more questions. 

What is the story of CHAKA, and how do you approach the development of a personal brand?

Good question! I haven’t consciously been working on a personal brand. I’m a very intuitive writer/maker, and I’m not a big fan of labels. CHAKA is just my nickname, everyone calls me that.  I use it professionally because I like how it’s so gender neutral.

Speaking of brands, how do you see the difference between small brands and big brands? 

I really enjoy watching big brand commercials, especially the ones that do artistic collaborations. In these cases, the channel of a brand is used for creative expression. For example, the FKA Twigs x Nike – Do you believe in more? campaign is so stunning. I still go back and watch it from time to time. 

On the other hand, small brands are also very inspiring and usually have a very strong and authentic message. A good example would be the newly founded brand Hedone Apparel, based in Rotterdam. They have such a heck of a story…I am still very grateful to have been a part of their campaign.

And what would you like to see more of in the current marketing landscape? 

I’d love to see stories that are less direct. I was brought up with a sense of transcendence – others might call it superstition – through the stories told by my grandmother. These stories are mystical and filled with symbolism. Even though I live in a city with a lot of culturally diverse people, the content pushed by brands does not match this reality. I would love to see a commercial pushed into my timeline that reminds me of my family and our lived experiences.

So what type of stories are you looking to develop? 

I believe that for viewers to be able to recognise themselves in the story, the story needs to hit something personal. I try to look for a way to tell small stories and blow them out of proportion, because I think the small stories matter more than the big hero stories. In a way, having a hero protagonist can create too much of a distance from yourself as a viewer.

A lot of your work seems to have a musical quality to it. How would you describe your relationship to sound? 

When I was younger I wanted to be a musician but life just worked out differently, I guess. I grew up with a lot of music, so being around musicians feels really natural to me. Also, the way musicians work and the way they tell their stories is similar to the process filmmakers go through, so we understand each other really well. 

As for music as a part of film, I think that you can’t have one without the other. For me, sound has an equal part in telling a story as the visuals have. Both are their own language, and if you layer them on top of each other you can create this new dimension, which is super dope.

Does this mean more music-related work on your - sorry, our, horizon? 

I have enjoyed doing music videos a lot but I am even more excited to be able to stretch my more abstract muscles within commercial work. Although bringing the two together and shooting something for Homepods, Spotify or other music related brands would be incredible.

Aside from that, I am working on a short that I would love to shoot. It is based on a poem I wrote two years back. I write a lot, and I hope to bring more of that writing to life on film.

From the role of a director, what qualities do you look for when choosing who to work with? 

That depends on the project and whoever suits it best to get a certain result. But mainly I’m looking for a chill collaboration and transparent communication. These qualities are important to me.

Let’s talk about gender in the film industry. What is the main thing that comes to your mind when someone brings up this subject? 

It’s typically Dutch to have male and female job titles for the same job (e.g. zanger, zangeres). I would love to see that disappear completely. At the same time, I know others find it empowering and embrace their female title with pride. Gender and the freedom to define yourself is such a complex topic and so personal to everyone. It’s an ongoing conversation I enjoy having and learning from, whether it’s in or outside of the industry.

And finally: what recommendations do you have for us to watch/read/listen/follow? 

I am currently re-watching a bunch of Wong Kar-Wai films on DVD. In the mood for love is one of my favorites and a must-see if you haven’t yet.

Definitely listen to Grrrls the podcast, and follow NASA on Youtube – they just landed on a freakin’ asteroid through a live stream.

CHAKA’s work has been featured in Nowness, The Daily Indie, Long Beach Indie Film Festival, Noisey, LA Underground, Toronto Film Week. You can get the full CHAKA experience by visiting her website.