Finnish poet-turned-filmmaker Mikko Myllylahti’s feature debut, “The Woodcutter Story,” won Cannes’ Critics’ Week inaugural Next Step award, part of a program aimed at helping the directors of the 10 shorts playing in the sidebar to make their feature debut.
“The Woodcutter Story,” which is being developed by the production banner Aamu Film Company, unfolds in Finland’s Lapland, in a quiet village where a dark force enters and sparks a series of tragic events. The tragedies start dragging down the morale of all but one villager, the local woodcutter whose unflinching optimism becomes suspicious.
Myllylahti said the movie mixed black comedy, surrealism and metaphorical thriller elements. He said the movie would also carry an environmental theme and would be about hope. The filmmaker, who has had four collections of poems published, said the tone of “The Woodcutter Story” was inspired by the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” and the work of Robert Bresson.
“The Woodcutter Story” was selected for the Next Step award by a professional jury comprising Rosa Attab, development Director at Why Not Productions (“Sorry We Missed You”); Mathilde Henrot, the co-founder of FestivalScope and programmer of the Locarno Film Festival; and Gaëlle Mareschi, the head of international sales at Kinology (“Annette”) and the co-founder of Fluxus Films.
The Next Step award entails a grant of €5,000 euros and an invitation to the Cannes Film Festival for the most promising film.
Myllylahti previously directed several short films, including “Tiikeri,” which played at Critics’ Week in 2018. Myllylahti also wrote the screenplay for Juho Kuosmanen’s first feature, “Olli Mäki,” which won the Un Certain Regard prize in 2016.
Next Step is a five-day program welcoming the 10 short film directors for a workshop in December in Paris, where they receive advice from select industry professionals – screenwriters, directors, producers and sales agents.
Remi Bonhomme, Critics’ Week’s program manager, said “The Woodcutter Story” illustrated perfectly the kind of films that the sidebar aims to showcase. “Next Step is about supporting filmmakers who have a unique voice, and Myllylahti, who is also a poet, is definitely one of them,” said Bonhomme, who noted that Next Step was the only film lab whose lineup of projects is drawn from a festival selection.
“Because the volume of films getting made is booming, a festival selection is becoming more crucial than ever, and Critics’ Week is particularly attractive to industry professionals because we boast every year a very tight, yet eclectic selection of shorts and films,” said Bonhomme.
Since launching in 2014, Next Step has helped 46 directors from 23 different countries develop their first film. Among the eclectic roster of projects developed through the program are three films in post: “Bombay Rose,” an animated feature by Indian director Gitanjali Rao; German helmer Patrick Vollrath’s “7500,” an action thriller with Joseph Gordon-Levitt; and Antoine de Bary’s “Mes Jours de Gloire”; plus a pair of films playing at this year’s festival, Erwan Leduc’s “Perdrix” in Directors’ Fortnight and Costa Rican director Sofia Quiros Ubeda’s “Ceniza Negra” in Critics’ Week.