A FILM directed by the founder of the Henley Fringe Festival has been selected for this year’s Cannes Film festival.
Jo Southwell, 36, wrote Holding On, her directorial debut, after watching her father, Alan, battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
The film, which tells the story of a man’s decline over a five-year period from his point of view, will feature in the Cannes short film corner and is also being considered for the main short film competition and the first-time film maker categories. It has also been shortlisted for best short film at the St Albans Film Festival.
Mrs Southwell, who lives in Aston, wrote the script, which includes several flashback scenes, based on her own experiences and with help and advice from the Alzheimer’s Society.
She said: “I’m estatic very happy and very proud of the film because it raises awareness of Alzheimer’s disease which is important to me.
“My mum came over from Ireland and she was crying at the end of the film so I think that’s good and my brother and niece who helped care for my dad were also very happy with it.”
Her father was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when Mrs Southwell was 16 years old, and died 11 years ago when he was 67.
Mrs Southwell said: “After I wrote the film, directing it seemed like the natural progression because it was a story I really wanted to tell.
“I really wanted to tell it in the way I saw it and now having directed I really want to do it again. The script originally started off as being very close to home but as the film process went on it became less about my personal experiences and I began to look at it as a separate story, as opposed to being about my own family.
“I don’t think I would have been able to direct it otherwise.”
The lead role is played by actor Gordon Kennedy, who is best known as Sergeant Bruce Hornsby in the BBC drama Red Cap, and his screen wife, Arlene, is played by Moir Leslie, the voice of Rev Janet Fisher in BBC Radio 4 series The Archers.
The film was filmed at several Henley locations including Acacia Lodge and the Hot Gossip café over four days in September and was premiered at Meadows Farm Studios in Marlow Road in December.
The film includes an original soundtrack written by Mrs Southwell’s step-daughter Antonia Southwell, a singer/songwriter who performs as Totie.
Her daughter, Lorelei, aged two, also features in the flashback scenes.
Mrs Southwell said: “She appears in the film with one of her friends and they quite liked running around and playing while they were being filmed.”
Mrs Southwell, whose husband, Caleb, is managing director of IBS Office Solutions, made her debut film appearance when she was 12 years old and has regularly appeared on-screen and on-stage since then.
She says her career highlights include playing a stenographer alongside Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore in the romantic comedy Laws Of Attraction and the part of Madea in Bash, a play which debuted in Henley before transferring to London.
She has previously taught PE at Shiplake College and Chiltern Edge School and, in addition to acting and directing, runs film agency Aston Management and film company Aston Productions.
She is currently developing two new directorial ideas a feature film, called A Mother’s Choice, and a web comedy series, both of which she plans to film in the town.
“I just like working locally, keeping things local wherever possible so it made sense to film it here, especially as Henley is such a beautiful place,” Mrs Southwell said. “I like the idea of filming on your back door and using what you have.”
She is also finalising plans for this year’s fringe festival. The full line-up is set to be released next month.
Mrs Southwell said: “I’m very excited because we have some really good companies coming on board and some very strong comedians as well.”