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Diego Céspedes’ ‘Electric Lion’ Wins Cannes Cinéfondation Top Prize

Students from Russia, China, U.K. also awarded

In the Cannes Film Festival’s key film school shorts awards, “El Verano del León Eléctrico” (The Summer of the Electric Lion), by Chile’s Diego Céspedes, a student at the Instituto de Comunicación e Imagen – Universidad de Chile, won the First Jury Prize at 21st Cinéfondation Selection on Thursday.

The prize was awarded by a jury headed by French director Bertrand Bonello (“Saint Laurent”). The jury also included Lebanese helmer Khalil Joreige (“The Lebanese Rocket Society”), Germany’s Valeska Grisebach (“Western”), Lithuanian filmmaker Alanté Kavaïté (“The Summer of Sangaile”), and Greek-born French actress Ariane Labed (“The Lobster”).

“The Summer of the Electric Lion” is based on the true story of the Lion, a Chilean prophet whose cult-like following believed he could electrocute others with a simple touch. The film is about a young boy who accompanies his sister on a journey to meet the prophet, who will claim her as his seventh wife. The jury singled out its “courageous” storytelling and praised Céspedes “for his capacity to tell much more than he shows us.”

Céspedes said the Lion’s story captivated the Chilean tabloids, but “the whole press focused on his story.” Told from the perspective of the boy and sister, the short was the director’s attempt “to tell the story from the other point of view” and focus the audience’s gaze “on where the story needed to be told.”

While the young helmer said he was caught up in the “euphoria” of his first visit to Cannes, which he called an “amazing experience,” he recognized too “how big of a platform this is for letting people know what we’re doing, what we want to keep doing, and talk to them about our future projects.”

Along with a cash prize, the award guarantees Céspedes’ first feature will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

Jury president Bonello praised the diversity of this year’s selection, which consisted of 17 student films, chosen from more than 2,400 entries coming from 512 film schools around the world. “You have very strong films, some that are very fragile but try stuff, animation, fiction, films done by men and women,” he said.

The winners were chosen “not because their films are masterpieces, but because you want to see the next one,” he said. “It gave us the desire to follow them and to see what they’re going to do after this.”

The Second Jury Prize was awarded to two projects. “Kalendar” (Calendar), directed by Russia’s Igor Poplauhin, a student at the Moscow School of New Cinema, is the enigmatic tale of an ordinary woman who sets her life aside every few months to take a long, mysterious journey. The jury singled out its “strong cinematographic experience” and the intense, immersive quality of Poplauhin’s storytelling.

Sharing the second prize was “Dong Wu Xiong Meng” (The Storms in Our Blood), directed by China’s Shen Di, a student at the Shanghai Theater Academy. It’s a gentle comedy about a pregnant Ghanaian woman who travels to a remote Chinese village to find the father of her child, which the jury praised for its “energy and humor.”

The Third Jury Prize went to “Inanimate,” by Lucia Bulgheroni, of the U.K.’s National Film and Television School. The animated short is the story of a woman with a normal life, a normal job, a normal boyfriend and a normal apartment in a normal city, until everything – literally – starts to fall apart. The jury praised the film “for its capacity to move us by its fantasy and its creativity.”

The prizes carry cash grants of €15,000 ($17,700), €11,250 ($13,280) and €7,500 ($8,850).

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