When the world went into lockdown due to Covid-19, time seemed to stand still. Filmmakers, however, used the period of confinement to explore their creative options. This was clearly reflected in the winners of a sidebar short film competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
Friday morning began with a screening over at the Palais des Festivals to find out who won the Nespresso Talents 2021 prizes.
The initiative, now in its sixth year, aims to encourage and support budding amateur or student filmmakers from around the world, and give them a platform to build their creative talent.
The brief was simple: a short film, maximum three minutes, in vertical format on the theme “Doing is Everything”.
One of the jury members at the ceremony was South African explorer and performance coach Mike Horn. He reinforced how important it is to get up and do something now, not just talk about it.
“We are all actors of our own lives,” he said, “if there’s no action, you’ll die with your dreams.”
Turning Covid into a positive
Russia's Klim Tukaev grabbed the top International prize with his film Postman (€5,000 in prize money, a trip to Cannes and a mentoring programme with industry professionals). He apologised in a video message for not being able to pick up his prize in person due to ongoing travel restrictions.
He chose to put a hopeful spin on the Covid crisis with a story about a postman who gets up everyday and delivers letters to empty windows and doorways, maintaining his routine come what may, in the hope someone will get the message, and they do.
Second prize went to Jan Kellner from the Czech Republic, for his film Bagman. He also chose to turn Covid on its head. What first appears to be a group of menacing gang members, hidden behind their masks and hoods, turns out to be a bunch of young men who have volunteered to deliver groceries to elderly people stuck at home during lockdown. They're also providing the old folk with some company.
Kellner told RFI that he is so inspired he already has new ideas he wants to get started on, thanks to the €3,000 grant and mentoring programme. The opportunity to mingle with other filmakers and producers in Cannes has been one of the highlights for him.
Nicolina Sterbet, a student in animated film from Italy, walked away with third prize. She chose to link her love of nature and a homage to her late grandfather in the animation film Speaking in Flowers. She won €2,000 and a mentoring programme.
Planting seeds for future films
The Nespresso Members’ Club Prize, designated in partnership with Cannes Semaine de la Critique (Critics' Week), went to Bruno Martins from Brazil, whose film 33421 is about a man in Sao Paolo who has planted 33,421 trees since 2004, his way of giving back to the environment and to society.
Speaking of planting trees, the CEO of Nespresso Guillaume Le Cunff told the audience that the company has planted a tree for each of the entries sent for the competition: that makes a whopping 993!
The film students' prize went to Cristina Aguilera Ochoa from Mexico for her film Doing is Love. She made up a “Zoom” song in reference to the fact that we’ve spent much of our lives living through a screen this past year. It was a message about taking the time to enjoy daily tasks, and to do them with your heart.
The first prize of the 2020 edition was also screened. It was won by fellow Mexican Faride Schroeder who was invited back as a Jury member this year.
Schroeder also focused on the human side of the Covid lockdown with her film Oasis, reconnecting with her mother during lockdown and accompanying women giving birth during the crisis. Life goes on.
In the Spotlight
Later in the evening, I went out to see the screening of Stillwater by director Tom McCarthy of Spotlight fame (Oscar for Best Picture in 2016). It’s not in the Competition itself, but is part of the official selection.
The main thing I can say is that Matt Damon is a darn good actor. His Bill Baker from Oklahoma with high-waist jeans, baseball cap and “yes ma’ams” is a solid, rugged performance. He forms part of an excellent trio with French actress and standup comedian Camille Cottin, who stands her ground in this film, and little 9-year-old Maya played by Lilou Siauvaud (who also came to Cannes and strutted down the red carpet, cool as a cucumber!).
Baker comes to Marseille to visit his daughter Allison who is in prison, accused of murdering her girlfriend after a fight five years earlier. He believes she is innocent. He prays, does her laundry, and delivers a letter to her lawyer. It is only after he has the letter translated and he decides to take matters into his own hands, that all hell breaks loose.
What's refreshing in this film is the fact that it is located almost entirely in the southern town of Marseille, a rough and tumble city with a dark underbelly.
The use of local language is not just the token "exotic" gesture often employed by Hollywood. Here, the French spoken by the locals is gutsy and raw, and it plays its own role in the film because it is through misunderstandings and information lost in translation that the action unfolds.
Stillwater has already created quite a buzz, not least because Matt Damon himself and the director and crew were in Cannes to present it.
But it has garnered mixed reactions. The Guardian in Australia's review was damning: "The fictionalised Amanda Knox drama is so bad it’s bad," it read.
But it’s an entertaining film, with interesting ingredients. There’s mystery and action, and although it loses a bit of momentum towards the end, that doesn't stop is from being enjoyable overall.
There’s a crudeness to Matt Damon’s character which matches the rough and dirty side of a city known for its gang wars and drug trade.
But he’s not on home turf as Cottin’s character keeps telling him. Her own daughter gets caught up in the melee and things don’t go quite so well...
Bill ends the film with the words “Life is brutal”. But there’s an ever-so-tiny smile on his face.