My First Summer - Film Review

★★★

Written & Directed by: #KatieFound

Starring: #MarkelaKavenagh, #MaiahStewardson, #ArthurAngel, #SteveMouzakis, #KatherineTonkin

Film Review by Taryll Baker

As part of BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival 2021

Still from My First Summer

We’ve had decades on decades of romance stories in cinema, but it’s only in recent years that those stories started featuring the presence of LGBTIQ+ characters, becoming more relatable to a much wider audience. In Katie Found’s My First Summer, 16-year-old Claudia (Markela Kavenagh) is isolated on a remote property after her mother’s death, until Grace (Maiah Stewardson) appears like a mirage. The two girls find support and comfort in each other, sparking a warm connection of love and intimacy. As the inevitability of adult life creeps into view, their special bond is threatened and put to the test.


Handling the sensitive theme of suicide alongside its portrayal of young, unconditional love, My First Summer springs through a colourful depiction of growth under the Australian heat with a genuine care for the subject. Found’s tackling of the smaller moments is really to be admired; her instinct for capturing the spiritual existence of romance sparks many opportunities for the talented, small cast to flourish. Kavenagh and Stewardson share a wonderful on-screen dynamic with delightful appeal. Their exploration of character isn’t halted by the film’s shorter runtime (roughly 80 minutes) — the pacing is fairly sharp and things happen quite fast — but it does leave some to be desired. Giving the story more time to simmer and breathe would benefit the characters, especially during the events of the last act. It’s not too damaging, though, and what we do have is a very sweet love story that doesn’t shy away from the darkness that can reside over someone when coping with loss and painfully sad thoughts.

Still from My First Summer

A lot of Australian cinema is particularly vibrant. It seems as though these filmmakers just have a keen sense of great storytelling, and it’s no different for Katie Found. She enwraps us with warmth, like a hug of understanding, and that warmth is elevated in the visuals. With cinematography by Matthew Chuang, a brightly lit array of location shoots and lively interiors, the world in which Claudia and Grace live feels welcoming. This is accompanied by a perfectly compiled soundtrack and almost every story beat is hit with acute accuracy as a result.

The only downside of My First Summer is its length. Spending more time on the blossoming connection of the two girls would have been favourable, and perhaps with that we could see more of Claudia’s disconnect; highlighting on the escape that Grace was for her, and through that, extending its focus on grief and healing. With that in mind, the way the film tackles these themes is satisfying enough, but it’s the unravelling chemistry of Kavenagh and Stewardson that really grabs the viewer amidst the radiant visuals. If only we could spend more of the summer in their company.

Markela Kavenagh & Maiah Stewardson in My First Summer

BFI Flare runs from March 17th - 28th, for more info visit:

https://www.bfi.org.uk/flare


- #TaryllBaker