5 Questions With Filmmaker Sam Kessie

Emerging British-Ghanaian filmmaker P. Sam Kessie holds a BFA degree in Media Production from the American InterContinental University in Atlanta GA. A Magna Cum Laude graduate and awarded the media department’s Outstanding Student Award, her senior thesis thriller short, ‘Sales Day’, caused a stir on campus and won first place at the school's video festival. Kessie has since won awards and recognition for her narrative, documentary, and music video work. In 2012, Kessie participated in the 5th Talent Campus Durban (part of the Berlinale Talent Campus during the 33rd Durban International Film Festival) in South Africa and her debut feature script 'Unbalanced' - a psychological mystery, was one of five scripts selected for their 1st Produire Au Sud Script Studio workshop. She is currently in postproduction for a mystery suspense and an experimental horror piece, as well as collaborating with others artists on shorts and features projects.

Sam reached out to us via Facebook with an excitement we couldn't ignore. With her talent and enthusiasm, we had to learn more so others could get to know the woman and her work!

Everyone's story is unique. Tell us how you became enthralled with horror as a genre.

As far as I can remember, I have always been drawn to the weird, the strange, the misunderstood, and the horror. Maybe it has to do with my childhood years not having many friends, having a few imaginary ones and then eventually becoming sort of a loner. Maybe it’s just because my dad also loves the horror genre and recorded a ton of them when we were in England and brought these to Ghana with us when we moved back in the early 80’s. During this time, there was only one TV station channel and that was off the air by midnight or so. So if I wanted to watch anything on the VCR, there were cartoons, which I had already seen over and over, or I could just wait for my parents leave the house and then watch all the old horror movies (I really wasn’t supposed to watch these). 

Yes I was TERRIFIED, but there was something that still made me hold the cushion pillow close to my bosom, and still dare myself to watch them until the end. I can’t begin to count all the horrors films I saw let alone remember some of the titles. The few I do remember watching were films like Dracula, An American Werewolf in London, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Diabolo, Night of the Living Dead, The Seventh Victim, M, Sugar Hill, Deliverance (yes I see it as horror!), A Page of Madness, Twilight Zone, Dr Who, Tales from the Darkside…(seriously there are way too many to list). Oh, and did I mention this was all before I became a teenager? I also read a ton of horror books. One of my favorites to this day is Misery by Stephen King. However, it never crossed my mind to tell stories. Becoming an artist, let alone a storyteller or filmmaker wasn’t something that was directly encouraged. I did write as a hobby and even wrote for my drama club in high school. 

The plays I wrote had a lot to do with the mystic and unknown. In college I started with a degree in computer science (hated it), then switched to psychology (found it really interesting) and then finally got a degree in Media Production because it finally hit me; I AM a STORYTELLER. Even still, I was mostly making more of the thriller and dark comedy type films. Until one day it finally knocked on me so hard in the form of a waking nightmare! My love was and always had been in the horror genre because it was one that I relate to and am more comfortable with.

What inspired you to make your horror short, The Last Summer?

I had just wrapped on a mystery suspense short film during the summer of 2013 that I directed for a producer who had written the script. On my own, I had been spending most of my time researching and writing my shorts and feature length scripts with some horror, psychological and science fiction themes and quickly realized none of the work I had put together so far had anything to do with this genre. 

So with a zero budget I gathered some friends together before the end of the summer to do a short silent film. I wanted to do something simple that could showcase my intentions and also use it to explore the genre. I was inspired based on a tale my mother told me when I was about six one day after coming home with a bracelet I found on the street. Needless to say after said story, it was pretty easy to stay away from strange objects.

What challenges and triumphs have you experienced as a Black woman filmmaker interested in making genre film?

So far I would say my challenges have been like any filmmaker; getting financing to get a story told. It really takes money to get things done and especially done well. However, there is always a way to get a film done, one way or the other. The triumphs have been really growing into this genre and spending time to understand that you can really tell a simple story and exciting story and do so with very little. The horror genre one way to achieve this and I am so excited to explore more into this as well as it’s sub-genres. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t make a genre film, especially in horror. Everyone deep down is a little curious of the unknown. It is what makes us alive.  I can’t wait to get people hold on to their cushion tight and hang on to their edge of their seats.

What are your aspirations for yourself and other Black women filmmakers in the horror industry?

My characters are dark and loners. They are outcasts. They are strange. They are misunderstood. They are me, and I aspire to have these stories and nightmares told. The very truths we are so afraid of writing and talking about. 

I hope more black women realize that we are capable of working very well in this genre and dare to push the envelope in telling taboo stories. I look forward to seeing so many stories and works from others.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share?

A short I did a couple of years ago called The Samaritan is currently online and will be on my website very soon. As I briefly mentioned, I have a mystery suspense in postproduction about a grief stricken mother who leaves her home in Africa to go abroad and participates in a reality show with her daughter in order to redress a traumatic injustice from her past. I am currently developing Unbalanced, my debut feature script - a gothic psychological mystery feature in addition to a few other scripts (both shorts and features), and an experimental piece on myths, taboos and fairytales.

Watch The Last Summer now:

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