British film school graduate to walk Cannes red carpet with first film

Mansi Maheshwari stands in front of a brightly-painted backdrop, smiling
Ms Maheshwari originally wanted to work in fashion

A student from a leading British film school will walk the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of her animated short film, having never made an animation before she enrolled on her two-year course.

Just months after graduating, Mansi Maheshwari has been shortlisted for La Cinef, one of the programme’s prestigious competitions for graduates of film schools around the world.

Her nine-minute film, titled Bunnyhood and described as a surreal exploration of a young girl’s anxiety, was one of only 18 shorts selected from 2,263 submissions.

Ms Maheshwari told The Telegraph: “It feels incredible… It wasn’t even in my wildest dreams.”

This was her MA graduation film at the National Film and Television School (NFTS) in Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, where the Oscar-winning animator Nick Park learned his craft.

Ms Maheshwari said: “I really love animation… You’ve created something that never existed and it would never exist if you stopped drawing it.”

She graduated from the NFTS’s two-year Directing Animation MA in February. She only became interested in animation during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown, having previously dreamed of a career in fashion.

Ms Maheshwari’s producer is Ashionye Ogene, who also graduated in February from the NFTS, with a Masters in Film and Television Producing, and who said that their Cannes selection is “a dream come true, incredibly surreal”.

They likened Bunnyhood to “watching the scribbled drawings etched onto an old school desk come to life”, adding: “The film’s narrative centres on young Bobby who confronts the nature of truth during an unexpected hospital visit, setting the stage for a profound exploration of lies and protection among loved ones…

“Bunnyhood is that sweet spot between childhood and adulthood when we learn about this ‘ugliness’ within ourselves.”

Ms Maheshwari, the film’s director and animator, said: “I realised how we often tell lies to protect the ones we love from the harsh truths of this world.

A childlike drawing with two characters, one bright red
A still from Bunnyhood, a surreal exploration of a young girl's anxieties - NFTS

“Ultimately, I realised deceit is a behaviour we adopt, especially in tough times, to achieve our desires. That’s where the idea of the bunny came in: each lie chips away at our honesty until we’re transformed into deceitful creatures.”

The NFTS has more than 35 MA, Diploma and Certificate courses, annually attracting more than 1,500 applications for around 170 places. Last year, nine out of 10 students received funding, with the School claiming to award more scholarships and bursaries than any other higher education institution in the UK.

Its training involves leading professionals such as the director Alex Garland, whose acclaimed films include Civil War, a dystopian thriller, and Dario Marianelli, the Oscar-winning composer.

The school’s graduates have gone on to work on major productions such as the Harry Potter films and Downton Abbey.

Park, who found Oscar success with Wallace and Gromit and other animated characters, has never forgotten the school, welcoming students from its animation course to his company, Aardman.

A young woman bends over a desk with paints and paper
Ms Maheshwari working on the animation, painting characters - NFTS

Jon Wardle, the NFTS’s director, described Bunnyhood as “a brilliantly made bold film about a personal story, told with swagger, charm and a healthy pinch of mischief”.

He said that the Cannes recognition is “a significant achievement that speaks volumes about the boundary-pushing creativity and innovative spirit we encourage from our students”.

He added: “Congratulations to Mansi and the entire Bunnyhood team for reaching this fantastic milestone so early on in their careers.”

They are now developing a short film –  “a live action-animation hybrid” with Bunnyhood’s co-writer James Davis – and discussing adapting Bunnyhood into an animated television series.

The film, which will be premiered on Thursday, is voiced by Nina Wadia, best known for Goodness Gracious Me and Bend It Like Beckham.