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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with Short Filmmaker Alex Burunova @ 69th Cannes Film Festival

PALE BLUE (2016) by Alex Burunova @ 69th Cannes Short Film Corner

PALE BLUE (2016) by Alex Burunova featured in 69th Cannes Short Film Corner.

Belarus born writer/director/producer Alex Burunova attended Cannes Film Festival for the 2nd year in a row to support her 2nd film in Cannes Short Film Corner.

I interviewed Alex about her experience at the festival and if she felt it has benefited her career as an indie filmmaker. Here is what she has to say:


Q: Was 'Pale Blue' based on true events?

ALEX: Without giving away too much, the premise of Pale Blue is based on real cases that happen to real women. Our writer and lead actress, Abigail McFarlane, has experience as a trauma therapist and in her practice she came across a similar case and was inspired to write a story based on this phenomenon.

Q: The film has a song as its theme. They say song licensing is costly. Did that make this a costly production?

ALEX: That is true, song licensing can be hell and in some cases for short films, can double the film's budget. We actually did it "backwards." We had a talented composer we really like, Finian Makepeace of Revel Makes. We spent long hours discussing how the song would sound and what kind of lyrics would elevate the story without giving away too much of the plot. Then he wrote us a sample pro bono - and we fell in love with it! That was it - the song was composed weeks before we rolled cameras and it really made a difference, as I was able to play it on set. It helped bring each scene together giving the actors and the camera operator that dark sexy foreboding rhythm.

Q: Your film has been doing the festival circuit, most recently Newport Beach FF. How was that experience?

ALEX: Yes, the film in Newport Beach was actually my first narrative short, Lonely Planet. It was great, as Newport Beach has a really strong programming and playing alongside such strong shorts to a sold out audience was really a treat. Just being there with all the talented filmmakers NBFF is able to bring together was somewhat surreal. Besides the strong line ups, they are known for their networking events - I think I made some lovely connections and hopefully a lifelong friendship or two!

Q: How have audiences been reacting to the films?

ALEX: Pale Blue answer: Although we are just starting our festival run, the audiences have been extremely receptive to the film. Pale Blue is a little dark, so I was always nervous that it won't be for everyone, but so far - the few audiences that have seen it, seemed to like it and be affected by it. The first time we screened during our premiere at the 40th Cleveland International Film Festival, there was this heavy "Oh Wow" echo through the audience, right after the credits rolled. For me, that was a huge relief.

Lonely Planet answer: You know, I am always surprised at the reception of Lonely Planet. It's always so warm. For what I've heard and seen - it deeply affects some people. But the surprising part is, although it's a story following a female character, the audience that gets affected is usually both women and men. I had so many men say in person and write me that the film touched them, or reminded them of their summer romance or someone who got away. I really like hearing that, because that means that the story is essentially universal, although it follows a lead female character. We need more of those.

Q: Do you plan to turn Pale Blue into a feature?

ALEX: Absolutely. In fact, Pale Blue was born as a feature. When its writer, Abigail McFarlane, came to me asking to direct it - she brought me a feature and I absolutely loved it. But after some discussions about what is realistic, we decided to make it into a short first. A sort of Proof of Concept, which will hopefully help us raise the funds to make it into a feature.

Q: This is your 2nd short film at Cannes short film corner. Can you tell people who don't know what the short film corner at Cannes is?

ALEX: Cannes Short Film Corner, aka Cannes Court Métrage du Festival de Cannes is organized by the Cannes Film Festival and has two parts - "in competition" portion usually showcasing 10 or so shorts around the world with total running time under 15 minutes that compete for the Short Film Palme d'Or. And out of competition section with screenings, workshops, networking events that allow filmmakers and industry professionals to meet during the Cannes Film Festival, screen their films, learn from each other and hopefully establish lifelong relationships. Within the short film corner, there are also a few parallels, like American Pavilion, Global Russians, Semaine de la Critique, and a few others that gather filmmakers by territory or affiliation.

Q: Your film last year, Lonely Planet, is about a woman travel writer lost in Europe. Was that inspired by real events?

ALEX: Haha. Yes, they say we write what we know. I'm an avid traveler and the film was inspired by the time I spent in Barcelona: walking down romantic narrow streets, drinking sangria in street cafes and marveling at the Spaniards' lust for life and the ability to live in the moment. Living life to the fullest is a concept we are well aware of, but I started thinking about a concept of LOVING to the fullest. What would one require to "Love in the moment"...And the answer came to me in Spain - you'd need a lover and an expiration date.

Q: Are your favorite characters women struggling to to find themselves in a complicated modern world of fragmented relationships?

ALEX: That is a very astute observation. Yes, I have made several shorts and am working on 3 feature screenplays in different stages of development and every lead character so far is a female. That is definitely not intentional. But in my writing (and directing) I try to make sure I connect with the characters on a deep emotional level and they come from a place of honesty and pain - and since I'm a woman I guess so far I've connected more to women. As for relationships - in my repertoire they are always functionally dysfunctional and navigating that is always either amusing or cathartic.

Q: How did Lonely Planet do in festivals around the world?

ALEX: Lonely Planet has screened in over 30 festivals (and counting), and we always have a pretty great response with the audiences. For some reason, I think it does better in the US than in Europe - we played more festivals here. Maybe because that idea of a European romance seems more exotic here, in the States. But the surprising part is, although it's a story following a female character, the audience that gets affected is usually both women and men.

Q: What do you hope to get out of this year in Cannes and do you think this annual event is crucial for filmmakers to attend for furthering their career?

ALEX: Besides screening at the Short Film Corner, we are also an Official Selection at Diversity in Cannes Showcase - an independent parallel happening during Cannes. Between those two screenings, the workshops and endless networking events, happy hours and parties, I am mainly hoping to find a producer for my upcoming feature films. But as with every Cannes, you end up meeting so many great actors, writers, filmmakers, agents - you never know but you might end up working with them on something. And of course inspiration - Cannes Film Festival screens some of the best voices in filmmaking around the world - going to the screenings is like a breath of fresh air, it inadvertently opens you up to a world of cinematic possibilities.

Director Alex Burunova

The film has now been released for viewing on the web:


Interview by Vanessa McMahon

26.05.2016 |

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