First film producer at Cannes: Molly Manning Walker for her success in “How to Have Sex”

CANNES, France — Molly Manning Walker was still awake from six months in the editing suite rushing to finish her first film when she arrived at the Cannes Film Festival.

“I’m fine with deadlines,” said Walker, 29, sipping a cup of coffee.

Six weeks earlier, Walker had just got off the Tube in London when his actor, who was a gentle man, called him shouting: “Where have you been? We entered Cannes! “

The story began about six weeks into Walker’s life. The slow pace to finish the film began and did not stop until 48 hours before Walker entered Cannes with his first feature, “How to Use Sex.” It also debuted in the festival’s Un Certain Regard category and won its honor on Friday.

Preparing for Cannes is often not a relaxing process even for the most seasoned filmmakers. Some editing, sound mixing or other last minute changes are often required. Business conventions must be followed. The international press needs to prepare. And then there’s the intense pressure for one of the world’s most famous red carpets.

“Every director was like: ‘But what are you wearing?'” Walker says, laughing.” “I’m finishing the movie!”

Storms can be confusing and exciting for newcomers. As the stars walk the red carpet and famous auteurs pass through the Palais, Cannes, year after year, has become the biggest stage for new directing talent to be released. Almost 50 years ago, it was Martin Scorsese. Last year, Charlotte Wells (“Aftersun”) became a new big voice.

This year, Walker is one of the most promising filmmakers at Cannes. “How to Have Sex” is a vivid, realistic drama about 16-year-old Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce, also a revelation) who travels with her best friends (Lara Peake, Enva Lewis) from England to Crete for spring break. Tara, like many men before her, wants to lose her virginity.

But while “How to Sleep” details the troubled, EDM-thumping hedonism of teenagers on a European vacation, it approaches teenage sexuality more honestly and carelessly than any similar film to come. Little is black and white in Tara’s experience, which is ugly, confusing, isolating and destructive.

For Walker, it’s a personal story based on his own experiences, which he spoke candidly about.

He said: “I was assaulted when I was 16 years old when I was drinking in London. “One of the things that made me talk about it is to explain how it is not being answered.” It can absorb the air in the room but it doesn’t have to. If many people have experienced it, we should speak freely. “

Walker grew up in London and started making films by documenting his older brother’s punk band. Both his parents wanted to be filmmakers and still are. Watching their unproduced videos, he says, gave him joy. “It’s my whole life,” Walker says of filmmaking.

As a teenager, he went on trips to Majorca and Ibiza as in “How to Sleep.” As Walker remembers them clearly (“I have amazing pictures”), he begins to question some of the things he wants. After that, “Good Thanks, You?” entered the Cannes Critics’ Week during the 2020 festival, wrote a 50-page document, and left a lot of room for change.

Walker made authenticity a priority. Before recording, she conducted interviews in the UK with 16-year-old girls and boys a little older to ask them about sexuality and their interpretations of what she wrote.

“Anything from what music, what movies do you watch to agree?” Walker says. “We can say, ‘Here is a scene from the film. How does that count for you?’ And none of them realized that it was a conspiracy.”

After months of fundraising, Walker shot “How to Sleep” in Greece. Some of the hardest days were fast. The second day required hundreds more. Walker was running on set.

He said: “On the third day, I thought that either I’m going to be sick and worried the whole time, or I’m going to have to enjoy this.”

“I had the best time of my life,” Walker continues. “I don’t know if they are different things. You are on a Greek island, with a small group, in a party town. I don’t know if it’s that or if it’s your first film. But I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Cannes, in the south of France, is its own holiday destination. “How to Use Sex” brought together a group of 30 actors, collaborators and producers who came down eager to party too.

However, Walker had many important roles. Interview date. Meetings with salespeople. Rehearsal at 1 o’clock the night before the screening at the Debussy Theatre. Walker was worried about his synth that was just finishing up his tune, wondering what would happen to change anything in the middle of the night.

“I was like ‘What if it’s not good? What if something goes wrong?’ Walker says, laughing. “My mom was like, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. I was like, ‘I think it’s my fault.'”

But he was determined, like in Greece, to enjoy the moment. “It won’t come again,” he shook his head.

The big day arrived on Friday: previews, photocalls, walking the red carpet. Inside Debussy as the final note rolled in, there was warm applause but not the response Walker was hoping for.

“I thought: ‘Oh, he likes it but he doesn’t like it,'” Walker said later that night. “Then the lights came on and everyone stood up.”

For eight minutes the standoff continued. Festival director Thierry Fremaux turned to Walker who had been hit by a gob. “Look,” he said, pointing to the crowd. “You have done this.”

Walker gave himself the order not to read the comments until the next day. He need not have complained, however; they were raves. Variety calls it “a new, head-turning start.” Before hitting the dance floor that night at the film’s beach party, Walker took a moment to reflect on his experience.

“It’s all very strange, to be honest, especially when you’ve been changing in a dark room for six months and then suddenly you’re thrown into this strange world,” he said. “It feels like I’ve been to 12 weddings in a row.”

In no time, however, Walker seemed overwhelmed by the experience. He looked ready and present. Seeing women connect with the film, she said, has been a joy. But the moment he felt the most sorrow was not in the celebration. It was almost time to sing his film.

“I just felt like getting to this point was real.”


This article was first published on May 23, 2023. It was updated on May 26, 2023, to reflect that Walker’s film has won the top prize in the Un Certain Regard category.


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