A-E-I-O-U short filmUPDATE: A-E-I-O-U has won the prestigious Jury Award for Best Experimental Short at the Cannes Short Film Festival this year. The festival celebrates the best of international indie short filmmaking.

A-E-I-O-U was inspired by a jewellery collection which explores mental health issues arising from the global experience of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Many Faces of Depression, a jewellery collection designed by Gisèle Human of South African accessories brand Waif, ound its visual expression in the new short film in five parts.

“Self-care and attention to our relationship with the self has never been more important,” states filmmaker Francesco Nassimbeni. “The global pandemic, compounded with the existing stresses of our hurried, outward-gazing lifestyles has resulted in a global mental health crisis. It is a crucial time to reflect on what is important to us, what nourishes us, what brings us peace.”

The notion of ‘safe space’ was integral to the discussions between designer and filmmaker. Implementation of safe space was used not only to construct the world of A-E-I-O-U, but also provided a useful methodology in bringing people together to focus on the neglected practices of gentleness, softness, sensitivity, and empathy.

A-E-I-O-U short film

Inspiring care

“Work created with care expresses care – and inspires care, too. This is the social wish of the film. We wanted to make an artwork that strongly advocated for the transformative actions of meditation, mindful togetherness, expression, and the pursuit of calm,” Nassimbeni explains.

Nassimbeni has had a multidisciplinary career encompassing fashion illustration, theatre directing, arts education, graphic design and creative writing.

“Yes, I come from a theatre and performance background,” he admits. “I’ve always wanted to make films, though. People have been asking me what took me so long and I’m not sure what to say! What excites me right now is how I can translate the principals that guide my theatre-making process, and convert them into the film medium. My primary focus is on the actor, but I am also very interested in how picture, text, performance and graphics converse.”

Nassimbeni’s own experience of the Coronavirus and its effects relate intimately to Human’s own creative process with The Many Faces of Depression. “I was truly depressed,” she shares. ”I had gone through a number of traumatic experiences – a death in the family, a big break-up and move across cities. This all culminated in a moment of unravelling … there was a point where I could no longer keep up the appearance of productivity, happiness, or growth.”

A-E-I-O-U short film

Drawing emotions

As a coping and processing mechanism, Human “started drawing the first thing that came to mind: Faces. The face is the stage of our emotional state. And I drew every emotion I’d become interested in. Melancholy, grief, longing, but also the ones that are part of me as a human and that have (thankfully) not gone away: Surprise, exuberance, stillness, gladness. I explored every emotion and with every one, I affirmed its validity. Because sadness is valid, grief is valid, exuberance is valid, and gladness is also, truly, valid.”

The drawings eventually culminated in set of stylised faces rendered in metal and formed into statement earrings and these new pieces feature as part of the progressive wardrobe styling in A-E-I-O-U.

The film series is neither pure commercial nor is it high art. It stars dedicated theatre actors versus models. It is conceptual rather than literal and its main aim is to address a societal issue rather than pursue a retail outcome.

“Art feels very central to how I understand the world and my place within it. I think we all need art – perhaps now more than ever,” Nassimbeni concludes.

Watch: You can see A-E-I-O-U on Vimeo as a full collection: https://vimeo.com/533872654