York grads behind one of three Canadian films at Cannes

Three freshly minted alumni of York’s Graduate Program in Film are behind one of the three Canadian productions in the official selection at this year’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival.

Production manager and co-producer Coral Aiken (MFA ‘10), editor Fabiola Caraza (MA ‘10) and production designer Jen Marie Thomas (MA ‘11) are attending the fest on the French Riviera as part of the creative team for the live-action short Big Muddy.

A US-Canadian co-production, Big Muddy is the story of a teenage outlaw on the run with his mother and her good-for-nothing boyfriend. In this modern day western, a young man comes face to face with the past when a mysterious drifter shows up at their hideout. Shot in Assiniboia in southern Saskatchewan, the film’s title refers to the region in the province where bandits and horse thieves would hide from the law at the turn of the 20th century.

Big Muddy is running in the festival’s Cinéfondation section, which is dedicated to the discovery of new talent. It’s one of 16 productions selected from some 1,600 submissions by graduating students from 360 film schools in 82 countries around the globe. It will be eligible for one of three Fabiola Caraza cash prizes totalling over $23,000€ to be awarded by the festival’s Cinéfondation and Shorts jury.

Left: Fabiola Caraza

“I think we all knew we had a pretty good film in our hands, but getting to compete at Cannes exceeded my expectations,” says Caraza. “We’re all very passionate about what we do. We love film, we love working on films and we had an amazing time working together on this one. I believe you can see that passion translated to the screen.”

Big Muddy was produced and directed by Caraza’s husband Jeff Moneo, an MFA candidate in the graduate film program at New York City’s Columbia University, and written and co-produced by his classmate, Brian Paccione.

“When Jeff was looking for a crew for Big Muddy, I couldn’t think of anyone better than Jen and Coral,” says Caraza. “I met Jen during our first year of grad studies in York’s MA program in film, and I met Coral a year later. I was immediately impressed by their knowledge and talent.”

“Fabiola and I were the only girls in our program that year and we became fast friends,” says Thomas. “I had seen some of her film work with Jeff, and really liked their style and esthetic, so I was thrilled when they asked me to work on Big Muddy. I met Coral when we were both working in the Future Cinema Lab [in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts] with [Canada Research Chair and film Jen Marie ThomasProfessor] Caitlin Fisher, and we’ve been collaborating ever since.”

Right: Jen Marie Thomas

“My first friend at York was Jeff’s younger brother, Cameron Moneo, who was a film studies student,” says Aiken. “We had both just moved to Toronto from the Prairies. I heard about Jeff and Fabiola non-stop for a year. When we finally all met, it was like reuniting with family. It’s such a dream to work with your closest friends. I never had any doubts this team would go far.”

York was more than a catalyst that brought the young film artists together.

“The time I spent at York was amazing,” says Caraza. “Not only did I meet incredibly talented and passionate people, but a community of filmmakers, film scholars and of course film lovers was formed. This community, which in great part is due to the amazing and Coral Aikeninspiring work of [York film Professor] Mike Zryd, was and still is an inspiration to me.”

Left: Coral Aiken

This whole “film family” is thrilled to be attending the Cannes festival. They all have accreditation with access to the Palais des Festivals and the Marché du Film and many screenings, events and parties – including the Palme d’Or ceremony where the top prize of the festival is presented.

“It’s an irresistible opportunity,” says Aiken.

Arguably the world’s most important film fest, the Cannes festival opened May 11 with the world premiere of Woody Allen’s romantic comedy Midnight in Paris, starring Owen Wilson, Michael Sheen and Hollywood A-lister and York theatre alumna Rachel McAdams (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘01). Prize winning films will be announced at the festival’s closing ceremony on May 22.