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CANNES–“Mano a Mano,” by Louise Courvoisier of France’s CinéFabrique, won the first prize Thursday at the 22nd Cinéfondation Selection,the Cannes Film Festival’s top film school shorts awards.

The prize was awarded by a jury headed by French director Claire Denis (“Beau Travail”). The jury also included French actress Stacy Martin (“Godard mon amour”); Israeli writer-director Eran Kolirin (“Beyond the Mountains and Hills”); Greek writer-director Panos H. Koutras (“Xenia”); and Romanian producer, writer and director Cătălin Mitulescu (“Traffic”).

“Mano a Mano” is the story of two acrobats who travel from town to town, performing a duet. But as their relationship begins to fray, the two are forced to confront their problems in order to regain trust in one another. Jury president Denis said of Courvoisier: “You made us enter the world of the circus in an unspoken and unknown way, and we found in [the French region] Jura something amazing.”

She added: “It is not a short film. This film seemed to us to be part of a much bigger story describing the unspoken feelings of these two incredible acrobats.”

Courvoisier is the daughter of musicians with two brothers who perform as circus artists. “For me, the whole spectacle life is very near to me,” she said. “I wanted to show the circus, not the way people imagine it is, but from the inside.”

Courvoisier said that the film’s stars, Abby Neuberger and Luca Bernini, are close friends who were appearing on screen for the first time. “I think they’re beautiful, and I wanted to write a story for them,” she said.

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

The second prize went to “Hiéu,” by CalArts’ Richard Van, which tells the story of a Vietnamese-American household that receives a surprise visit from a long-lost patriarch who’s failed at a get-rich-quick scheme. Juror Martin told Van bluntly: “You made a f**king amazing film.”

The third prize was awarded to two projects. “Ambience,” by Wisam Al Jafari, of Palestine’s Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture, follows two young Palestinians trying to record a music demo inside a noisy refugee camp. Though the chaos thwarts their efforts, they’re able to discover an authentic and creative way to meet their deadline. The jury praised it “for its humor, coolness, and the extraordinary use of cinema and sound in the everlasting pursuit of human freedom.”

“Duszyczka” (The Little Soul), by Barbara Rupik, of Poland’s PWSFTviT, was singled out by the jury as “a great work of animation that takes us on an extraordinary journey.” The film follows the voyage of a tiny human soul hiding inside a dead body decaying on a riverbank, as it sets off on a journey through the afterlife.

Created in 1998 and devoted to the search for new talent, the Cinéfondation Selection chooses fifteen to twenty short and medium-length films each year from film schools all around the world.

The Cinéfondation also runs a highly popular residency for emerging filmmakers in Paris and the Atelier development workshop at the Cannes Festival. .

The Cinéfondation Selection is part of the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival. This year more than 2,000 student films were submitted from 366 film schools. The prizes carry cash grants of €15,000 ($16,760), €11,250 ($12,570) and €7,500 ($8,380).