26 April 2024

Award-winning Wollongong short film hits streaming platform after international success

| Kellie O'Brien
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Year of May Stephanie Arezzi

Stephanie Arezzi, starring as May, in the short film Year of May. Photo: Supplied.

A Wollongong-produced short film on grief shot entirely on an iPhone at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown has resulted in the award-winning Year of May, which is now available for streaming after completing its international film festival run.

Written by and starring actress Stephanie Arezzi, and directed by Kyle Nozza, the film premiered at Sydney’s Smartphone Film Festival (SF3) in 2022, where Stephanie was presented with the Best Actress Award for her compelling performance.

The film made waves around the international film festival circuit, earning accolades including Best Actress and Best Director at the Paris International Film Awards, as well as the Best Director award at the Vesuvius International Film Awards.

However Stephanie said she wasn’t expecting awards, having only just completed her bachelor in theatre at the Central Queensland University as COVID-19 hit.

“I’d finished and was ready to go and COVID happened,” she said.

“I actually hadn’t written a whole lot before that either, so it was a little bit of a blessing in disguise because I found the time and the place to venture out into screenwriting a little bit more.”

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To add to that, Stephanie and Kyle had studied together in Queensland, but only ever worked together in musical theatre productions, not film.

“I felt very honoured, but also very seen,” she said of the awards.

“It was quite honestly a little overwhelming to see it having reached and resonated with other people that were outside of this little bubble that had been created for us.”

Year of May centres on main character May, portrayed by Stephanie, who embarks on a year-long video blog documenting her daily struggles with grief, the subsequent search for healing, and finding meaning in her life again.

Stephanie said while it was the emotions that had resonated most with people, “at no point does this feel like a story about grief until you get right to the end and realise that’s what she’s been going through”.

She said to add to the spectrum of emotions, the video blog format made it feel like a personal conversation between two people – May and the viewer.

Stephanie Arezzi Kyle Nozza

Kyle Nozza directing Stephanie Arezzi during Year of May. Photo: Supplied.

“I think COVID really played a big part, purely because I went through the loss of a friend right at the beginning and I saw so much of my own grief but also so many other people’s experiences with it,” she said.

“You see so much in films and in entertainment of the depression, the sadness and the crying, but you don’t see all the other things.

“You don’t see the insomnia, you don’t see the moments of highs that come with the moments of lows, the moments of hyper fixation, trying to search for meaning and all of that.

“In the middle of the pandemic, when everyone around us was feeling that as well, it seemed very timely.”

She said filming during the pandemic also made it an easier task to capture the emotion for an actor.

“We ended up filming it right in the 2021 lockdown when Wollongong was, for the first time, really heavily impacted and we suddenly went into lockdown,” she said.

“As we all kind of forget, it was such an isolating time that it felt a bit like everything she went through was similar.”

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Kyle said having someone like Stephanie, who was so passionate, talented and driven, to bring the project to life was a blessing.

“We told this story using the same equipment available to our protagonist, so that her story could be received in the same manner in which she created it,” he said.

The film’s tagline “grief isn’t a singularity” encapsulates its core theme of resilience and the human capacity to navigate loss.

Year of May came from wanting to show that healing from grief doesn’t have an end, you just learn to keep going,” he said.

“I wanted a story that showed that path.

“Grief and the pursuit of happiness is such a universal matter and, as with most cases, the more universal, the more personal.”

Stephanie said she was now working on a couple of projects, including a short film called Coffee that started its film festival circuit last year, a feature film coming out this year, a couple of stage productions, and this month completing a script reading for a series that’s in its early stages.

You can livestream Year of May free on Vimeo throughout the month of May.

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