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

April 14, 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.

6 thoughts on “Scottish student’s short M.E. film to compete for Cannes festival prize | 14 April 2017”

  1. This whole article has worried me! The girl was housebound with ME but ‘ran away from home’ … sorry she couldn’t do that if she had genuine ME which was severe enough to make her housebound. If she HAD managed to leave, she’d have been found lying on a pavement somewhere 100m from her house shortly after leaving.
    And the fact that she did this in part to get away from her ‘over-protective mother’ is feeding directly into the hands of the BPS model. It doesn’t sound like this guy knows anything about this illness at all. It appears that he is looking at it from a healthy person’s perspective and projecting his own impressions: ‘If she were to just get out and about more, it would be good for her and she would feel better.’
    Now if he’d shown her trying to live an active life but collapsing and becoming more severely ill will every attempt, with every dream and desire for a good future, cruelly curtailed, that would be closer to the real truth.
    I haven’t seen the film and maybe I have jumped to judgement too quickly, in which case I offer my apologies in advance. But on the surface of it, it strikes me that this film is more likely to do harm than good.

    1. *agrees with everything you said* but still wanna see it, unfortunately it won’t be at Cannes since one doesn’t get a break from houseboundness coz one feels like it

    2. I am the filmmaker, I would just like to make a few things clearer; she is in recovery and has been housebound, but her mother has not allowed her out despite her improvements. The film is based off of my friend’s recovery (that because of over-exertion or bad luck ended in a very severe relapse that has returned her to a housebound state). I’m very sorry about some of the wording and interpretations of the press so far, I am relatively new to talking about my films to journalists.

      I made this film because it breaks my heart that someone as creative and funny and intelligent as my friend is trapped by her own body, with an illness few people know or care about. She is a person with a fantastic sense of humour which is why I could not see this film as anything other than a comedy (with, of course, dramatic elements). The film is not a handbook for dealing with M.E., I cannot guarantee this film will change minds about or perfectly explain M.E.

      It is a story about a young woman and her relationship with her mother. There are so many varying experiences of M.E. I cannot represent them all in one short film, only what I know from my own experiences around the illness. I can assure you she is not physically healthier by the end of the film, quite the opposite. As a sufferer of M.E. said to me today on Twitter “living life is a hard urge to resist”, and this is the character’s central problem, how to feel she is “living life” while still looking after her health. Her mother is overbearing and over-protective, but she isn’t wrong. There are of course such shades of grey lost in the interviews.

      I can only apologise for the quote from the NFTS about mental illness, that is something I have already requested that they do not repeat and I have publicly disavowed. It was spoken out of an innocent lack of knowledge.

      I hope this reply addresses some of the issues that may worry you.


      1. Thanks Rory.

        “I cannot guarantee this film will change minds about or perfectly explain M.E.”

        I do not think any of us could either!

        “There are so many varying experiences of M.E. I cannot represent them all in one short film.”

        Well done for representing just one, in just one moment of one sufferer’s journey.

        People watch films. Sometimes by accident or invitation. Sometimes by choice or design. Afterwards they often talk to others about the film, and aspects illuminated by it. It may even make them ask questions of people they think might know more. Films and stories are catalysts for ; discussion, inspection, questioning and truth searching by the viewer or reader/listener. These are all things that M.E. has been needing much more of for a long time.

        again, Thanks.

  2. As someone who has been ill for so long I am delighted to see characters w ME appearing in films, I am probably more interested in fictionalised representations of the illness, at this point, than true stories. I am, naturally though, always moved by real life accounts of those who are very severely ill, it breaks my heart.

    Because of the very fragile respect – or utter disrespect – and disbelief around this illness, thanks to a core in the medical establishment and media, as sufferers of ME we have to constantly be vigilant about possible misrepresentations of the illness. Rory has made it clear here and on Twitter that he knows ME is a physical illness. It seems the Guardian article, like many articles on ME, did not reflect his position accurately.

    I think Rory’s film sounds brilliant and I wish him every success with it. An audience at Cannes is surely something to celebrate (though, of course, I have not yet seen the film).

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