Some of the easier seats to find at Cannes are in the Cinéfondation, which is a shame not only for the young filmmakers who need and deserve as wide an audience as possible, but also because some of the liveliest, most interesting and entertaining filmmaking of the festival can be found here. Really. Now in its 17th year, the Cinéfondation selects shorts from film schools around the world.
On day one Wednesday, they included an accomplished family drama from Korea, a wonderfully inventive comedy from Italy, a beautifully painted life-sized animation from Britain, a charming coming-of-age story from France, a wonderfully realized drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Asia (which includes a searing performance by the Japanese actress Kaori Momoi), and a sharp, edgy take on outlier youth in rural Texas by UT graduate student Annie Silverstein. On Thursday, Silverstein was awarded the Cinefondation's first prize. (The list of winners is here.)
Prior to film school, Silverstein was a social worker in Washington State working with Native American teens, a project that included the making of a 70-minute documentary. At some point, Silverstein told me on the American Pavilion’s deck, she realized that it was either social work or filmmaking, and when UT Austin gave her a scholarship, that was that. She nevertheless wanted to stay close to the social work, to set a film in such a community and have it function as “the fabric of the film. I wanted to use all of those experiences I had witnessed -- and some of my own.”
A great looking 16 minutes on a girl, her dog and a boy, “Skunk” is not so much a coming-of-age story as a brief but potent slice of a teenage girl’s life. Yes, the film does revolve around her first sexual experience (more or less), but it is far more about what happens afterward, and how she deals with it. “When women don’t have a way to defend themselves,” says Silverstein, “sometimes they have to do something really crazy.”
That something is the film’s denouement and it wouldn’t do to describe here, save to say that it involves shame, but it’s something crazy enough to have Silverstein’s professors advise against it. She was right to stick to her guns, as it’s the difference between an accomplished piece of filmmaking and one that also has something bold to say.