If even more proof were needed that the French Riviera is a hotbed of creative filmmaking, 23 year old July Allard delivers it.
One of the gods of Celluloid Heaven, Stanley Kubrick, once famously said, “Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but the best thing that young filmmakers should do is to get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of any kind at all.” Aspiring director July Allard from Grasse heeded her idol’s advice but did put a little more work than that in her first short film, O. And has since been collecting prizes and awards all over the world.
The Parker family lives through different universes. In each of these space-times, their life is subject to radical changes. An infinite number of choices and events are possible, everything can happen according to theirs actions… The plot of the 15 minute sci-fi movie bears certain autobiographic features. Like her heroine, Lily Parker, July Allard is enamored with astronomy and the concept of Multiverse. She likes to ponder existential questions about the relationship between science and the arts. “What is more troubling than the physical and spiritual future of humanity? Should we believe in life after death? Does a Higher Power control everything from the birth of the universe or even before?” These profoundly philosophical questions are at the core of July’s reflections, betraying a maturity and wisdom well beyond her tender age of 23.
July was born into a solidly middle-class family that didn’t have any particular artistic inclinations. An only child, she was shy and reserved, and loved to simply sit, observe, and paint. Displaying great creativity early on, her drawings were exhibited locally to critical acclaim and would eventually also earn her a distinction from the city of Mandelieu.
During her teenage years she felt increasingly drawn to the movies but she thought that a career in filmmaking was not accessible to her, “because cinema is something for stars and big names.” After high school graduation, July went on to Aix-en-Provence for a year to obtain a degree in Arts, but could never quite forget her father’s encouragement to pursue her passion for the movies. “He always said to me, ‘July, you have to dream. You have to tell stories’.”
And one day, in 2012, she took the plunge and enrolled in film school in Nice with a goal to become a director, attracted by the versatility of the job. At the same time she took theater classes. Interestingly enough, she who is rather shy in her everyday life has no qualms stepping in front of a camera or on a stage, and she still takes any acting opportunities she gets.
July wanted the film she worked on for her finals to link all the things that are meaningful to her: arts, science, space, astronomy, and the mystery of universe and multiverse. And thus O was born. A sci-fi movie alright but not run-of-the-mill: A gently told, deeply philosophical story instead of a disjointed succession of special effects, tenderness instead of guns, and Mozart instead of ear-deafening explosions. O has a noticeably feminine signature yet ventures into territory typically associated with men: science, space, technology.
Under July’s direction, cinematographer Jonathan Servins and sound engineer Todd Warren, both aces in their fields, did an amazing job giving O the look and feel of a big budget movie, and yet, all it took was a slim €7,000 – more evidence that lots of money can’t buy creativity and talent. As for the lead actors who despite being amateurs all give impressive performances, July proved a good hand for casting. Laura Casenave (Lily Parker) brings astonishing depth and sensitivity to her role. Alain Allard, the man who convincingly steps in the role of scientist Dr. Allan Parker, is no stranger to July…. he is in fact her father. And Caroline Rivier (Eleanor Parker) is her cousin, and known as a former member of the Caméra d’Or jury at the 1995 Cannes film festival.
With such a quality product in hand, July started submitting her film to film festivals around the world in 2014. The first one she tried was Cannes, in her own backyard, and almost needless to say, got turned down. Instead, she opened her computer one morning to an email message, “Congratulations, you have won in the Best Sci-Fi category!” That was the 2014 Berlin Short Film Festival, and from then on the prizes and awards just kept pouring in. Best Shorts Award in San Diego. Winner of Accolade Global Film Competition and Indie Fest Film Award Winner, both in La Jolla. Along with that, numerous Official Selections at some of the most prestigious film events around the world. Already lined up, invitations to the Toronto Independent Film Festival in September, the Unreal Film Festival in Memphis, Tennessee in October, the 2015 Indie Fest La Jolla in November, and, further down the road, the Socially Relevant Film Festival in New York City in March 2016.
There is a clear theme: this is a movie which appeals to the foreign audience, and especially North Americans, considerably more than the French. Why is that? “I think viewers and juries overseas are more experimental and open-minded, especially when it comes to fantasy. In France, most films – or at least the ones that do best – have social themes, and if something doesn’t fit into the box, it is not readily accepted,” July opines, sharing the complaint of so many other French filmmakers of the younger generation. She would therefore not exclude to seek her professional fortune in the United States. She might also find it easier to get the acceptance as a woman filmmaker there which eludes her in France. “The movie industry is still very much a man’s world. Directing a bunch of men as a woman, and being the youngest of the lot, was quite a challenge, but I got there. Not that they didn’t make me pay afterwards though….”, she remembers her experience during the shoot.
But the pretty blonde has the unwavering support of one man, and a very important one: Youcef Mahmoudi, himself an Italian-Niçois filmmaker who took Hollywood by storm with his first work, Kosmodrome, raking in a plethora of awards as well. A fellow graduate from July’s film school and probably the best known and most successful of the young PACA directors, Youcef gives July a helping hand…. as First Assistant Director in the film project and as her companion in life. They collaborate on all their projects, and also founded Hypéria, a film production company, together. A creative power duo which will go far, very far.
Referring to her love of the universe, the source of all that shapes and propels us, July says, “I have my head in the stars.” But with so much talent and energy, we predict that some day, one of those stars will be lying at her feet, right on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
All images courtesy July Allard