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Washington University students to screen films at Cannes Film Festival

A still from student film "Grieve" depicts a solemn young black man's face against a brick wall.
Provided by Washington University
Still from student film "Grieve."

As Washington University student Sagar Brahmbhatt went throughtraining in the school’s Uncle Joe’s Peer Counseling program, he was struck by the value of a fundamental emotion: grief.  Brahmbhatt learned that internalizing emotional pain without an outlet can be harmful and that grieving is healthy. 

“Once you do accept grief, although you do feel sad, you’re more at peace with it” he said.  “And eventually, once you go through the grieving process, you may get better.”

Inspired by his training, Brahmbhatt channeled that knowledge into his short film “Grieve,” which tracks the grieving process of a young man whose brother died. The movie travels to the international Cannes Film Festival this week. At Cannes, Brahmbhatt’s film will be shown along “Floor is Lava?” — a film by fellow Wash U student Evan Gates.

Both are part of a student film program at the world's leading film festival in France. The two films are united by their investigation of the overwhelming emotions  of young adults, who struggle to cope with ever-complicated lives. 

But there are differences. Where Brahmbhatt’s film tackles loss, Gates’ “Floor is Lava” looks at a young man’s difficulty in letting go of adolescence and coping with the frustrating responsibilities of adulthood – like paying taxes and managing a credit card. 

“I think the reason why people find these films compelling is that they can relate to that process of possibly trying to put those emotions off and avoid them,” Gates said. “ And eventually it catches up to them in some way.”

George Gathiani agrees. He starred in “Grieve” and co-wrote “Floor is Lava?” with Gates. Gathiani said both films deal with with the underlying tensions experienced by all the filmmakers.  As young adults, they’re trying to grapple with the pressures and confusions of their own experiences as they look to the future and try to find direction in their lives.

“It’s young people dealing with intense emotions at a stage in their lives where they’re new to it — when all previous emotions were either not on the surface 'cause you’re a kid and things were simpler, and you could tell your parents, or you have challenges that you previously did not anticipate,” Gathiani said.

Both films were originally produced as part of the student film initiative Campus MovieFest, this past fall. Conceived and produced within a five-day period, they were later screened as part of a national festival in Atlanta before moving on to Cannes. 

The screenings are important for more than just the students. They'll also represent Washington University’s Film & Media Studies Program, as well as the larger St. Louis film community, said Colin Burnett, an assistant professor at Washington University. 

“As soon as I heard, I made sure everyone else knew,” he said. “These movies now will be circulated and they’ll be able to say ‘Official Selection at the Cannes International Film Festival.’ And they’ll be able to wear that with pride."

Both Gates and Brahmbhatt will travel to France to attend the screenings, which will occur late in the festival that begins Tuesday and runs through May 28.

Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold

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