This year, Keesha Chung debuted her first short film, Grey Area, and hot off a long festival run at Montreal International Black Film Festival, Reelworld Film Festival, and cineFAM, she talks about the project.
The new director wanted to shine the spotlight on real Black stories in Toronto. Stories that were focused on everyday life and moving away from narratives solely about trauma and oppression. “There is such an impactful group of people here who literally build the culture of the city and no one is making stories about them,” she says.
This story follows a young model wrestling with her career, about to move to London, spending one last night with friends and running into her ex of six years for the first time since they broke up. It is a small snippet of the all-to-frequent life of a young creative in their twenties, dealing with the harsh reality of the arts scene, friends, and old love.
For Keesha, “[it] felt organic because it was my story I was telling, and I was able to put my own experience into it.”
In many ways, the city takes the lead as the main character in this film. Every second of the reel and every inch of set is glittered with Toronto influence. Chung’s goal was to use her work as a platform to showcase the broader work of creative talent in the city. The looks – selected by costume designer Mecha Clarke - were a vibrant mix of notorious Toronto designers like, Spencer Badu, Tyrell, 4ye, and Vitaly to create an authentic look for each actor. From the hair, makeup, clothes, art - by Moya Garrison-Msingwana - and down to Ace Hill beer in hand during the party scene, the city is represented in every shot.
Keesha says, “I wanted to show Toronto on screen in a way that I hadn’t seen before and make it feel as authentic as possible. Even the party scene; I wanted to make it look like something that I’d been to myself. The clothes are outfits that I’ve seen before, things that I’ve worn before. I wanted that to come through in the film. Even the art on the walls is Toronto art.”
The story itself sat with Keesha for years as she graduated Concordia University with a degree in Women’s Studies, moved onto Humber’s program for Film and Multiplatform Storytelling, and landed in Bell Media’s prestigious graduate leadership program, until she finally felt she could do it justice - both for herself and for the city it represents. For Chung, one of the most important parts of her job was to cultivate the best team possible to evolve the project into something more well-rounded than what was in her mind; to include more Toronto voices in the narrative.
“As a director, it is my job to lay the foundation for an idea and then work with people who can add to something and evolve that idea… I ask [my team], ‘how can you make this better?’”
Working with other creatives permeates through her work not only in film, but in creating uplifting and educational content via her platform Collective Culture (@collectiveculture__) - "a platform that prioritizes voices of black, indigenous, and people of colour through content development and programming.” In all she does, Keesha is working hard to fill in gaps for artists, minorities, and the city alike. As for her future as a director, she believes in quality over quantity and is waiting for the right inspiration and the right moment to make the best work possible to incapsulate this city for all it is.
Grey Area will be back at two festivals in February 2022 if you missed the opportunity to catch it this fall. Look for updates from Keesha come January for your chance to see her inaugural film.