Scottish student’s short M.E. film to compete for Cannes festival prize | 14 April 2017

From The Guardian, 13 April. Story by Dalya Alberge.

A Scottish student will walk the red carpet at this year’s Cannes film festival after his short graduation film was chosen from thousands of entries to compete for a prize.

Rory Alexander Stewart said he was amazed to discover that his 26-minute film, Wild Horses, was one of 16 films picked from 2,600 entries for the festival’s Cinéfondation category, which is devoted to emerging talent.

“I’m pretty amazed … Cannes is Cannes … You think there must have been a mistake,” he said after receiving the news this week.

Stewart, 27, from Leith, left the National Film and Television School a few weeks ago, having completed a two-year master’s degree in directing fiction.

Wild Horses, which he wrote and directed, is about a teenage girl who has myalgic encephalopathy (ME), or chronic fatigue syndrome. Housebound by the condition, and struggling with her over-protective mother, she runs away from home, searching for a horse and trying to establish her independence.

Describing the inspiration for his film, Stewart said: “I have a very close friend who has ME, an illness that can be very destructive both physically and mentally, so that was the seed.

“At first, what interested me was the experience of going outside after years of being housebound. The idea that you become almost awed by simple things like riding the bus is both funny and heartbreaking.

“However the heart of the film is the somewhat strained relationship between [the teenager] and her mother, which is something I think many people experience.”

Shooting a scene for the film

Shooting a scene for the film

Wild Horses was made by a group of graduating NFTS students and stars professional actors Emma Curtis and Emma Cater.

Stewart, whose mother is a neonatal nurse and father was a fireman, said he has wanted to be a film-maker for as long as he can remember.

“When I was about 10, I stole some VHS copies of Metropolis [Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic] and Reservoir Dogs [Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 thriller] from my uncle and then fell in love with cinema indiscriminately,” he said.

“As a teenager, I was in a film group for young people that was run out of the base of Edinburgh’s Filmhouse cinema, and that was where I made my first film, a western.”

Asked about his influences, he spoke of a particular love of “off-beat films” such as The Lobster, the 2015 surreal satire. “Anything that’s got its own personality,” he said.

He is now developing a feature script based on his previous short film, “about a murder detective who is extremely ineffective”.

Some of Britain’s foremost film-makers have found Oscar-winning success after being trained at the NFTS, based in Buckinghamshire. They include the animator Nick Park, who created Wallace and Gromit, and Il Postino director Michael Radford.

The NFTS is headed by Nik Powell, whose own films include the Oscar-winning The Crying Game.

“It’s an emotional film,” Powell said of Wild Horses. “It’s quite a difficult subject, very internalised and hard to externalise in the cinema. He’s done terrific job doing that.”

Cinéfondation, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, accepts submissions from film schools around the world. Three prizes will be awarded at a ceremony preceding the screening of the winning films in Cannes’ Buñuel theatre on 26 May.