Having gone through stages of questioning her future vocation and numerous difficulties that followed, thanks to her strong passion and tenacity, she finally brought us this great movie, her debut feature, “ChildreN of the mountaiN”.
Due to the special features of the protagonist and not having sufficient funding to afford CGI, finding the right actor became an important aspect of the filmmaking process.
Some parents with special needs children and deformities were not comfortable having their children featured in a film and moreover, it was simply difficult to find a child that had all the characteristics of the character in the script.
“It was difficult to find a child that had all the health conditions, which are cleft lips, Downs Syndrome, which is more physical, and Cerebral Palsy. Jessica just has two: a cleft lips, Downs Syndrome… We figured we could just work that out”, she explained and that was why eventually she used a girl to cast Nuku who is supposed to be a boy.
It was through the Graft Foundation, an organization that provides free surgery to those who have facial deformity, that she found Jessica.
Together with her team paying the expense of medical tests and hospitalization, they helped the little girl get her reconstructive surgery.
Moving from West Africa to the United States to pursue the dream of becoming a film director, Priscilla’s difficulties, pressure and struggles come not only from the filmmaking process of her first feature film, but from the moment she chose filmmaking as her dedicated occupation.
After studying filmmaking at The North Carolina School of the Arts, she obtained a masters degree in Corporate Communications. She talked to The Prisma: “At some point it felt so difficult and I felt like I was never going to be able to it. So I thought maybe I just need to try another career path, just in case.” However, she never ever gave up on her dream.
From 2011 to 2014 including the whole time spent in graduate school, Priscilla had been conceiving the story and raising funds. She could not wait to start her project with a tiny bit of secured financing after merely two months of gradation in July 2014. “That is why I know I’m passionate, that is why I know this is for me”, she added.
The university did impact on her, not directly as a film maker but as a human being: it supported her career and gave her an award for speaking for women and children.
Her non-film-related study also later made a contribution by providing her with ideas on how to do better marketing for her projects. Besides getting help from her family and friends, she received grants from a local organization that sponsors New York artists, and from Women in Film.
When asked why naming this film with two capital letter Ns, Priscilla shared her interesting way of thinking: “It was an artistic choice… and nobody writes like that, so I figured why not.” Her linking the abnormality of writing to the deformity of the main character Nuku reflects her delicate conception about this piece.
Although the story about Nuku and his mother Essuman is not based on a particular real case, it is fiction based on a real situations and occurrences in Ghana where society tends to blame everything on females.
“If you are in a supportive society, people will let you know it is not your fault, but in that society, they might actually say that it is your fault”, she explained.
She argues: “some women tend to feel that if they had made different choices, or had done this or done that, then this wouldn’t have happened… It is not a traditional or a specific cultural way of thinking; I think it’s human nature and a more natural way of thinking.” Yet she did stress that women should not be blamed for something that is not even within their control.
During the interview, she also disclosed the fact that there are many different beliefs in her hometown: Christian, Muslin, traditional believer, and non-believer. A surprising case is that the mother of the child who is cast as the new-born Nuku declined Graft Foundation’s offer, because she thinks her daughter is a goddess and did not want her to be changed at all.
However, Priscilla mentions that this is not a common thought held by most Ghanaians since that mother is from an extremely remote area and her decision may result from her traditional belief.
She holds that any mother would do the same thing given the same situation and cultural background like Essuman and try everything to find cure her son.
“If hospital treatment don’t work, they try traditional medicine, if that doesn’t work, they go to the pastors if they are Christians, if that doesn’t work, they try a shaman……again I think it is our human nature to find solutions”, she stated. To her, individuals resort to ritual or spiritual ways simply because their cultures offer these options to them.
From her experience with many mothers, and her own sister who has 4 children, she understands that the biggest wish for all of mothers is to have a healthy baby. In the United States, for example, a pregnant woman can check if her egg or her fetus is healthy, yet someone who is in the developing world cannot easily have access to health care.
For those who are from remote areas and lower classes, they will even be taken advantage of and exploited.
“They are hoping that they can get spiritual help and a miracle, so they go to church, and what little money they have; they give it to the pastors. The pastors are getting richer and people are getting poorer”, she described the situation happening in Ghana.
Yet through epitomizing the persecution Essuman had suffered in this gender-unequal society, Priscilla did make a difference in challenging the social norm and attracting more people to focus on the situation in which the vulnerable group have been unfairly treated and even bullied.
She has her own company, i60, providing production services in both Ghana and the United States. Frequently travelling between the two countries, she expressed her view that although the film industry environments are quite different from each other, she is her own boss with absolute freedom in film-making in both countries and always treats others and is being treated with respect.
Priscilla has considered moving from New York to Los Angeles where the Hollywood film industry is based since it is more concentrated and developed compared to New York. She is also hoping to gain support from more investors. Except that leaving her only family in the United States who are all in New York will be a huge move. “I might move to LA, who knows,” she answered.
Despite the help she has received from some organizations and personal connections, her production still lacks investment, the financing of this film did not even reach a million dollars. With various ideas on her mind, she thinks some of her stories may require a level of funding that is too ambitious for her to obtain at this stage. “I am not going to touch that now, but it will happen eventually”, she said.
Currently, Priscilla is planning her second feature film with a higher but realistic budget. She said: “I think that in life, whatever you do, each time you do it, it should get better” without revealing further details of her work.
It is noteworthy that when she was still in the film school, she had already made several short films with varied themes, and genres, from horror to women’s’ health, and she is also open to directing movies from other writers’ stories. “Basically whatever comes to me, I am not going to put myself in a box,” is how she described her attitude. It seems that this talented director is always ready to surprise us.
What will this feminist supporter with such a compassion for the disadvantaged group bring us in her following work? Hopefully, by the end of next year we shall see.
(Graham Douglas: Proofreader)