In early May, recent San Francisco State University alumnus Andrew Zox arrived in Cannes, France, among the throngs of movie critics, directors, actors and film executives attending the Cannes Film Festival. It’s his first time there, not just as a film lover, but also as a nominee. Cinéfondation selected his Master of Fine Arts thesis film, I Am My Own Mother, for the student short film category.
Cinéfondation, the organization responsible for finding promising new talent for the festival, whittled down the 2,400 entries from film students around the world to a selection of 17 short films. Zox, who graduated in December, was one of two U.S. student directors chosen by the organization. The chances of getting into Cannes are less than 1 percent, so it’s a real privilege to screen there, he said. The Cinéfondation jury will award three prizes to the top films at a ceremony on May 17.
“As a filmmaker, you grow numb to rejection, so when you are accepted into a festival it’s pretty thrilling,” Zox said. “With Cannes — I couldn’t ask for more, especially after working on this film for two years.”
I Am My Own Mother is a 23-minute film about an adopted woman on the cusp of childbirth who reinserts herself back into the life of her biological mother and siblings, unsettling the entire family unit. “The main character is a lawyer raised in an upper-middle class family while her biological family is blue collar. So there’s a socioeconomic divide. Her adoption is a kept secret and her visit a complete surprise — each person reacts differently,” Zox said.
The story is produced and loosely inspired by Zox’s partner and her preliminary inquiry into the identity of her birth mother. She was adopted by parents in Baltimore. When she turned 30, she got the urge to learn more about her birth mother, he said. She reached out to Catholic Services and was provided with some background information. It was a very emotional experience.
“It got both of us thinking about what that reunion could look like. One thing Catholic Services told her is ‘Your birth mother may want to develop a relationship with you, and you need to be sure you really want that,'” Zox said. “Adoption stories are all different.”
SF State Assistant Professor of Cinema Scott Boswell served as a faculty adviser to Zox on the project. He noted that Zox has a wonderful ability to capture small moments between people and show the psychology of human interactions in a compelling way.
“He has a talent for capturing ordinary moments and making them seem extraordinary,” Boswell said. “I’m happy to see his work recognized. It could really open doors for him. Cannes is a buyer’s festival, and he’ll have a chance to meet people who could be future collaborators and could really help his career.”
Zox, a New York native, studied theatre and sociology as an undergraduate at Middlebury College in Vermont. From there he continued acting and creating experimental theatre projects. He then tried his hand at film. He made a few short films but wanted to refine his voice and skills, so he applied to San Francisco State’s School of Cinema. “SF State has this program that was created in the 1960s with a tradition of experimentation and political activism,” he said.
Up next for Zox is a feature film about an immigrant family’s first year in the U.S. showing their process of assimilation against the backdrop of the changing seasons.
— Jamie Oppenheim
Photo: Lead actress Dionne Audain in Andrew Zox’s short film I Am My Own Mother. Photo courtesy of Andrew Zox.