In his 2017 documentary JOY, vlogumentary maker Rafael V. asks what it means to be happy – where can we find joy? A few months on from the film’s release, Anthony Davis caught up with Rafael to discuss his personal approach to cinéma vérité, reflect on what he learned from making this film, and find out about his next project.
AJD: For me, the real core of JOY is probably in the last ten, fifteen minutes. You’ve got David [Vujanic], who’s talking outside a building, sitting on some steps – it’s clear that you look up to what he’s saying, you value what he says. He and JME both have a prominence in the film. How did you come to know both of them – and how did you develop this trust in them?
RV: JME is a very famous recording artist in the UK, and he’s always been known to be kind of socially conscious and very aware of what’s going on in life. So hearing from someone you’ve been listening to from a young age was part of the reason why I look at his advice and knowledge as really important. I just happened to bump into JME on the street, coming out of a bar drunk on my friend’s birthday. This is what it comes down to – the right place at the right time. A coincidence. I just happened to have my camera with me and he just happened to walk past me at the right time. Imagine if I’d come out thirty seconds earlier or later? Maybe I would have missed him. So it was obviously destined to happen.
AJD: I don’t think it’s obvious that’s how it happened – there seems to be a connection between you.
RV: I think it’s because with the conversation that I had, it was very long, so we were comfortable with talking with each other. I feel like I’m comfortable talking to anyone. But with David, he’s creates a lot of content with people that I like, so – I don’t personally know him, but one day I messaged him and wanted to ask him a couple of questions, and he agreed to it and we sat down.
AJD: The way you can make people show themselves on film – that’s a gift.
RV: Trying to get people to be comfortable and honest on camera, it doesn’t just come down to what you’re talking about, it comes to how you express yourself and how you portray yourself. With a lot of the scenes, maybe you noticed the first intro scene at the party, everyone enjoying themselves – and the final scene where people are playing football – all of those scenes I recorded not without people knowing, but without telling anyone I was filming. They were all my friends, so it was OK to do it – they noticed I had my camera – but I did it from the perspective that I’m not in your face.
“I challenge anyone to go a month pretending you’re broke. See how much fun you can have.”
AJD: Getting useable footage in that way – was it easy to do?
RV: No! It’s very hard to capture something so raw. I think it comes down to my social openness. Have you ever gone into a retail place or a hotel – people are so used to how the conversation goes [in that context]. But once you’ve broken that tone, that structure of conversation, you wake up.
AJD: You use yellow titles in the film – why did you choose that colour?
RV: I love that colour! I’ve been experimenting with colour palettes. I’ve worked in branding, that’s where I started, and I’ve got a very good eye for that kind of thing.
AJD: I expect you know the Pantone number…
RV: I do! FFD900.
AJD: There’s a part in the film that features a series of Polaroid photos.
RV: That part is called “Excerpts of a time before money”. All those photos were taken before I had my first job, when I started earning money. I thought that was a nice reflection, a way for me to look back at the good times I had without money. I challenge anyone to go a month pretending you’re broke. See how much fun you can have. I dropped out of my job to dedicate myself to making this film. I was unemployed for eight months, couldn’t spend time with my friends. However, the biggest learning point was navigating my way through six months of no money, but finding ways of getting around and enjoying myself. I have a job now, but that was a huge learning experience for me. It defines the point of my film – you don’t need money to be happy.
AJD: There could be a film in that! Can you give us a little inkling as to your next documentary project?
RV: The next thing I make will be very explorative, just like JOY, but much darker, more negative, eviller. I think it’s a step towards something bigger…