Anyone who crosses paths with Kalani Mackson is instantly struck by his positive and uplifting vibe. His energy is infectious. Conversations had are deep and soulfully rooted. The guy gets it. This approach to life is an immense asset to his career, attracting likeminded creatives with whom he’s developed countless collaborations. But we believe that he’s only on the cusp of his career, and that big things lie ahead for the cinematographer. We caught up with Kalani while skating a few of his local spots to learn more about what drives his process.
Born Rival: Tell us a little about how you got into filmmaking and photography. Where did the interest spark or where did you first get started?
Kalani Mackson: Photography honestly was the first sort of dive into capturing images and trying to tell stories. My uncle was really into photography; he shoots a lot of bicycling and I always thought his stuff was beautiful. The adventures it takes him on it always seemed like a lot of fun. So when I graduated high school he bought me my first camera. It was a first generation digital Pentax. It was great. And yeah, that was the first kind of dive into it.
BR: Where you’re at now, can you talk about some of the film or photography work you’re doing now or interested in and where your career is at? What kind of films do you shoot and where are you going as a filmmaker?
KM: I'm looking to just sharpen my skills right now; that way when I have the ability to really shoot the things I want and the things that mean something to me personally in my life, I will have the experience necessary to do it right. That's where I’m at in the process. I’m just working towards those projects that mean something to me.
BR: What does skateboarding mean in your life and in the process of storytelling?
KM: Skateboarding for me right now is community. It’s a place, an activity. Yeah it’s like a way that I can interact and be social. To be a human in someway. It’s really just a way to connect. It's just the best way I can put it. For me I’ve always been active my entire life but I’ve always had these very intense activities. I used to do marital arts competing in fighting. I kinda stopped that practice but kept the momentum of it in different ways so it's kind of found its way into skateboarding.
BR: Tell us more about the two spots we skated today. One was a place you frequent regularly and the other newly found, is that right?
KM: The first park we went to was the East Orange Memorial skatepark right off 280. I’d call that my local park, as its the closest one to me but it is one of my favorites honestly. So I’m just happy its so close. But thats kinda my getaway when I need one, after a day of work or even shooting. It’s something I like to do to center myself, it's my meditation.
BR: So yeah then the new spot; what does it do to heighten your senses for your skateboarding and skills, heighten your visual palette...
KM: wooo yeahhh. That was sick! Sorry just saw a sick varial heelflip [laughs] that right there, seeing homies land tricks. But it's also an explorative practice, something that gets you out to see new places and chill with new people.
BR: Tell us about the Caribbean cafe we went to and a little about the food you like there. Does that connect you back to your family and heritage of where your from and what it means to you as a human being?
KM: Well I recently just got back from Jamaica, and while I don’t actually have any roots back there, my dad’s been taking trips there since he was younger so he’s very connected out there, so the food and the energy and the music is definitely a big part of the way we like to live our lives and the way we like to express ourselves, the things we like to consume. So Limin's is a great part of comfort and home. Community is always such a big thing for me, and to feel that sense of community. I love going to Limin's. I always get a double [laughs].
BR: What exactly is a double??
KM: A double is basically Caribbean comfort food; it is roti stuffed with curry, chickpeas, cabbage, and sometimes rice. You can have it with other meats but thats essentially it at its core.
"It is said that cameras capture a tiny piece of your soul, therefore preservation of the soul is just as important as preservation of the image."
- Kalani Mackson
BR: You talk about community a lot and you’re really good about bringing community together; whether it's just a day skateboarding with friends, or putting together film festivals and things like that. So what would you like to see out of the film community; what do you yearn more for from that specific community?
KM: That’s a great question. There’s so much that I would love to see come out of the film community and world. I think more than anything, I’m always asking for more inclusion and more diversity, that means even in the stories we’re listening to and what we’re consuming on a mainstream level. There are so many stories that I feel as though can be true to people’s experiences that you may not be getting on a normal basis. Storytelling and more specifically, filmmaking, has the power to really open doors into other people's lives and situations. It's a true educator. I think with a more inclusive industry, we can really start to see more understanding and compassion for others.
BR: You have a great approach to life. Always keeping it positive, always seem to be absorbing what’s around you.
KM: Yeah just trying to be real to myself and always try to learn from the people around me and connect with those people I’m learning with and through. Skating and filmmaking and photography is all a way that just helps me do that. It helps me communicate and feel alive.