New York-based Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells’ feature debut “Aftersun,” premiering at Cannes Critics’ Week, aims to achieve a balance of joy and melancholia in equal measure.

Framed as a look back at a father-daughter holiday at a Turkish resort in the late 1990s, with occasional mini DV footage adding to the period texture, the film is an ode to nostalgia with hints of something far darker.

Wells’ first short, “Tuesday” (2015), was about the loss of her father, which happened when she was a teenager. “I wanted to explore a different period in that relationship, like a young father and his daughter on holiday. Even just visually having a young parent, like a young man and his daughter, it just felt like it could be something interesting and fun and compelling,” Wells told Variety.

The script began in a different form in that it was more conventional and plot-driven, and the more she worked on it, it became increasingly personal, says Wells. “It’s not autobiographical, per se, but I think of it as being emotionally autobiographical. And, over the course of writing, I got more and more of myself into both characters. And it just evolved from there,” Wells said.

Though the film is set in the late 1990s, the period of time she grew up in and had the most to draw from, Wells was careful not to be too specific about the time frame and the cultural moments of those years. “It felt like it would hurt the environment if I was being hyper specific,” Wells said. The focus of the film then, remains on the father-daughter relationship.

The father is played by Paul Mescal (“Normal People”), who was initially unavailable as he was shooting “God’s Creatures,” which is premiering at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight this year, but a scheduling change in “Aftersun” meant he could do it after all. Wells described Mescal as “passionate and committed” and a “fun collaborator.”

The daughter is played by Francesca “Frankie” Corio, whom the team selected from some 800 submissions in late 2020 early 2021 at the height of the second wave of COVID-19 in the U.K. Corio was chosen for her ability to take direction and emotionally invest heavily in the scenarios given to her and then walk away without carrying too much of that baggage. Mescal also helped with Corio’s performance. “Obviously Paul is an experienced actor and Frankie was starting from scratch. So it was really lovely to witness their relationship develop over the course of filming.”

Wells wrote and directed three short films as a student in the MBA/MFA dual-degree program at New York University where she was supported by BAFTA New York and Los Angeles, and was a fellow at the 2020 Sundance Institute Screenwriters and Directors Labs. Adele Romanski, Barry Jenkins and Mark Ceryak’s Pastel were the first to board “Aftersun,” which then went to the Sundance Lab. At Sundance, where Wells’ shorts “Laps” and “Blue Christmas” played, she met Eva Yates of BBC Film and the film was further developed there.

“Aftersun” is produced by Romanski, Jenkins and Ceryak for Pastel and Amy Jackson for Unified Theory and financed by BBC Film, the British Film Institute (BFI) and Creative Scotland, in association with Tango. Executive producers are Yates for BBC Film, Lizzie Francke for BFI, Kieran Hannigan for Creative Scotland and Tim Headington and Lia Buman for Tango.

“Living and having gone through film school in the U.S., I feel very fortunate that I come from a place where there is a national funding body and there is robust support for debuts and early stage filmmakers,” said Wells.

Next up for Wells is a break and after that look at some more personal stories.

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