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Not your typical romcom: U-M student film invited to Cannes Film Festival

By Alana Valko

Hayley Tibbenham as Alice in Inhuman. Photo by director of photography Joshua Knoller.
A debut film by University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance student Hayley Tibbenham, was invited to be part of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner. Last spring in a creative writing course at the U-M, Tibbenham began writing a scene that would become the beginnings of a short film. After creating one scene for class, her creative writing professor, Jamien Delp, connected her with filmmakers from Interlochen Center for the Arts who advised in the process of creating a short film. “When I was writing this, I had not taken a single screenwriting class prior, but I was fascinated by filmmaking,” says Tibbenham, who is a rising senior studying voice performance. “As a person who doesn’t really see themselves represented in a way that is complex or meaningful, in lots of different art forms—and especially in film—I was inspired to turn my scene into a short.” According to Tibbenham, “Inhuman” is about a a plus-sized woman named Alice who moves to a small town in northern Michigan. She appears to be a jaded, seemingly insecure teenage girl, but her budding romance with Elliot, a sunny high school golden boy, leads to the discovery that she is not some washed-out stereotype—she is actually just a vampire. “The film asks a lot of questions and leaves people hanging,” she said. “I definitely think it starts a conversation about the assumptions we make in our daily lives, as well as attempts to redefine the genres we think of as ‘feminine.'” After spending the summer of 2018 writing the script, Tibbenham sent it to some friends and started preparing the short for production last fall. Shooting began in December 2018 in various locations on campus, such as Mason Hall and the Art and Architecture building. Other scenes were shot in Holland, MI.   In total, between 25-30 student actors and actresses, filmmakers, producers, designers were involved. Students from the musical theatre and voice departments in SMTD took on acting roles, while student filmmakers from the Film, Television, and Media department in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts were tapped to produce the short.
  • Hayley Tibbenham, director, writer and actress of "Inhuman," and her team take a moment to relax and celebrate after an afternoon of filming in sub-zero temperatures off the coast of Lake Michigan. Pictured (from left to right): Charlotte Beggs, Hayley Tibbenham, Mitchell Salley, and Joshua Knoller. Photo by Lauren Guido.
Genres Hayley grew up loving helped shaped the film—from John Hughes' rom-coms and soapy television dramas to gothic vampire lore. She cites being inspired by female writers in film and TV, including Shonda Rhimes, Mindy Kaling, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Issa Rae.   “I’m inspired by female writers who create interesting, complex, flawed women not typically seen, as well as women who are able to be both in front of and behind the camera,” says Tibbenham. Not only is Tibbenham the writer and director of the short, but she also plays the lead actress, Alice. “As I was writing it, I was seeing myself as Alice. It felt a little bit selfish, but it also felt powerful seeing a part of myself represented on screen,” says Tibbenham. While Tibbenham is a voice major, she reckons that a musical background has only helped her experience as a filmmaker. “Music is a huge part of a film. Being able to sit down with my composer, Brad Gurwin, and really be able to communicate with him under a common language we both understood as musicians was super beneficial,” she added.   The Short Film Corner at Cannes Film Festival was a particular goal for Tibbenham, not only because the date lined up the end of the film’s editing process, but also because it’s particularly geared towards young, first-time filmmakers. Tibbenham, who attended the festival, says that the invitation presented networking opportunities with notable filmmakers, producers and distributors, and others just starting out in the industry. “It’s really exciting to be invited," remarks Tibbenham. "It’s one of the biggest, oldest, most renowned festivals in the world. It’s sort of like a gold standard in the film industry." Tibbenham received support through grants, including a grant from SMTD Excel, Arts at Michigan, and donations through a GoFundMe she set up herself. The biggest factor for her, though, was finding a community of support through the university. “A huge part of this was being able to have support from my fellow students,” she said. “If you want to do something at this university, the people and opportunities are there—you just need to take advantage of them. There are so many resources.” As for her future in filmmaking, Tibbenham hopes to continue combining her love for performing and writing. “It’s so incredibly exciting and there are so many unique opportunities to be in front of and behind the camera–who knows, maybe I'll do a musical next,” she said. "Inhuman" is currently being submitted to film festivals across the U.S. and abroad. The short was invited to the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner, which will took place May 20-25.