Samein Priester, 1st &4Ever
I met the documentary filmmaker Samein Priester last spring while I was at The MacDowell Colony. He screened his documentary short 1st &4Ever, which elicited an emotional response from all of us who saw it, and it launched my friendship with Priester. We talked about film and life and he showed me footage from other projects. There is a quality to Priester that is also evident in his work: you want to listen to him.
1st&4Ever addresses the absence of the father figure and how one can learn to be an effective father if one has never had an example to look to.
Growing up in Harlem, Priester’s own father left when he was three years old. When he was 13, he was out playing in the snow with his 18-year-old sister, Vanessa, when she went into labor with his nephew Donte. Although only a child himself, Priester became a substitute father for Donte, whose own father was in prison. Donte is the central character in 1st &4Ever. His love of football keeps him out of trouble. We meet his coach, Booker T. McJunkins, who also serves as a father figure to the boys he coaches.
“A lot of these kids don’t know how to be men. They don’t know how to raise a family. They don’t know how to show compassion. That’s why we have the problem that we have in the city. A lot of these kids don’t have a male figure in their lives 24/7. I feel more like a daddy/social worker than a coach. That’s all I am is a foster father. I care more about the ballplayers than I do about the team.” — Booker T. McJunkins
The film concludes with Priester and his wife Denyse Thomasos adopting their beautiful daughter, Syann. We feel, as viewers, a sense of hope for the future, the end of a negative cycle, and the start for a wonderful family. Priester speaks about his mixed emotions on the day the adoption is finalized. He explains there is “joy for what you are receiving, and sadness for what’s being given up and fear for what may be taken back.” He goes on to say, “I’m going to be the best father Syann could possibly ever have.” I believe him.
In addition to its compelling content and characters, Priester has a visual acuity as a filmmaker that serves his subject well. The film won Best Documentary in the Newark Museum Black Film Festival 2012, as well as Best Documentary and Best Cinematography in a Documentary in the 2011 Citivision thesis show.
Not long after returning from MacDowell it was with profound sadness that I learned that Priester’s wife, Denyse Thomasos, had gone to the doctor for what was supposed to be a routine procedure. She suffered an allergic reaction and died.
Thomasos was born in Trinidad but spent most of her childhood growing up in Canada. She studied painting and art history at the University of Toronto and went on to get her MFA in painting and sculpture from Yale. She was an associate professor of art at Rutgers University. She met and fell in love with Priester and they completed their family with the adoption of their daughter Syann.
Her death was completely unexpected. Priester is grieving and in shock and in the process of ensuring the future of his daughter.
In the short time that I have known Priester, I have learned much from him and know that he would be an asset to any film department/organization with open positions. Two different funds have been set up in Denyse’s memory to help Syann. One is a college fund, the other is to meet more immediate needs.
If you’d like to contribute to the fund for Syann’s immediate needs, you can send a donation in any amount here through Samein’s Pay Pal account:
If you’d prefer to donate to Syann’s college fun, you can contact Mona Hollander at msmonah (at) aol (dot) com or mail a check (made out to Samein Priester) to Mona Hollander, 370 E. 76th Street, Apartment C1104, New York, NY 10021.