Filmmaker Carmine Pierre-Dufour G’11 wrote and co-directed the short film “Fanmi,” which recently won Best Narrative Short Film at the Provincetown International Film Festival. An alumna of the Newhouse School’s television, radio and film graduate program, Pierre-Dufour has additional writing credits for the television show “Transplant” and the 2018 short film “Mahalia Melts in the Rain,” which she also co-directed.
After winning at the festival, “Fanmi” now qualifies for the most prestigious award in the film industry. As preliminary voting for the Oscars shortlists begins this week, Pierre-Dufour discusses making her second short film, the significance of her Oscar-qualifying award and how her Newhouse education impacts her career.
“Fanmi” is about a powerful mother-daughter bond. How did you draw from your own experiences to shape the narrative?
I entered a short script competition in Quebec, and I had to find and adapt a story. When I landed on this one, I could recognize my own relationship with my mother. In the film, the mother is more vocal, and the daughter is more introspective, yet they cope with grief or heartache in the same way. They hold off on their own and shut everyone else out, and I thought that was a good opportunity to show that’s how I feel sometimes with my mother.
As both a filmmaker and a person, what does your short film mean to you?
It means everything to me. It marks the beginning of my career, so to see where it’s taken me, winning this award, I couldn’t have imagined that when I started. It’s really moving. I hope I continue and make more films, but I’ll always look back fondly at this one because it means a lot.
What was a tough moment in the process of making “Fanmi”?
In Quebec there’s public funding for film, and we applied for years but never got it. It’s really hard to get rejected over and over again and [the film] was always, “good but not good enough.” We asked ourselves if we should abandon the project, but we were very lucky to have Sandrine, my co-director, and François Bonneau, our producer, who said, “we can find a way to do this.” We ended up just doing it with our own money and finding sponsors.
How has your Newhouse education helped you get to this point in your career?
I had a screenwriting class with Richard Dubin that felt like a long conversation every class. I’m a very analytical and rational person, so it felt like, “what is happening in this class, what am I learning?” I kept on trying to find meaning in it. It was only after I graduated that I understood the process of looking at scripts, talking about these things, finding the material and reading the things I’m curious about. There’s something about seeing the material and breaking it down that helps you understand the structure of it.
What is one of your favorite Newhouse memories?
I was a teaching assistant in a television production class the whole year and got to “semi-produce” a web series. It was all these late nights of building sets and everybody being tired while we’re trying to shoot these things. The atmosphere of that, guiding students and meeting passionate people who were so into it made the year.
What does winning this Oscar-qualifying award mean to you?
It felt really powerful to achieve this award at the Provincetown International Film Festival. Ultimately, there’s tons of films who qualify each year, so it’s just the beginning of the race. To even be entering the race shows if you keep believing in what you really love and you’re passionate about what you do, you will reap the rewards. Even if we don’t make it to the shortlist, we got an opportunity to show even more people this film we really really love. That’s great already.
What do you hope to accomplish with “Fanmi” in the future?
If we can get to an [Oscar] nomination, that would be amazing. But once the film is made, it has its own journey through the world. That’s when you let go and everybody else gets to have a little bit of ownership of it. Getting more people to watch it and having them tell us what they liked and what moments touched them, that’s really the only goal we have.
Brooke Borzymowski is a sophomore broadcast and digital journalism major at the Newhouse School.