Esmée Lavalette’s Queer Short Film, “Found Family” Gains Applause and Awards

Lesbian Director Esmée Lavalette

Hello, everyone! In this post, we’re catching up with Esmée Lavalette. I’ve featured Esmée and her work on the blog before (which you can revisit here). 

In the last blog, I talked to Esmée during the production of her short film, “Found Family.” Now, the film has made its rounds at film festivals, so we’re checking back in with Esmée, the short film, and what’s next.

For anyone unfamiliar, Esmée is an award-winning lesbian filmmaker from The Netherlands. Her most recent short film, “Found Family,” has secured many official selections at film festivals all over the world and won six awards.

Background on Esmée

I’ve known Esmée for years through the small world of sapphic connections and the Internet. What really connected us, though, was our great hair. When I’m not getting updates about Esmée’s film projects, we’re swapping Curly Girl Method hair tips. 

Esmée was born in a small Dutch town, knowing from a young age she was ready for something bigger. She moved to Amsterdam immediately after high school graduation, got her bachelor’s in Media & Culture, and took off for the US for part of her education. 

Shortly after her semester in New York, she enrolled in a film studies master’s program, then moved to LA to study directing at UCLA Extension. In LA, she gained PA experience, served as assistant director, and directed three shorts of her own.

Esmée’s film experience includes working on American Horror Story during season 10. As one of her favorite shows, Esmée describes this experience as her most memorable and rewarding. 

She also served as first assistant director for a day on “Three’s Definitely a Crowd,” a short about an interracial couple pretending to be roommates when the girl’s mother visits. This short performed well in festivals and held a spot in the top 10 on Disney+’s Hotstar–a big streaming platform in India.

“Found Family,” – a lesbian short film

Since Esmée’s short film, “Found Family” premiered in August 2021 at the Taos Pride Film Fest, it has since played at 30 total festivals around the world, including the US and France. The film won honorable mention at its premiere and went on to win six awards, one for best director and four awards for best LGBTQ film.

Esmée’s inspiration for the short derives from a desire to depict queer stories without ending in tragedy. She acknowledges the steps entertainment media has made with regard to queer representation, but “still way too often, queer media have sad endings where [queer people] die or something else bad happens.”

That sentiment is a common talk amongst queer and sapphic viewers. Ever since The 100’s decision to kill off their beloved lesbian character, LGBTQ fans emphasized the frequency of such “bury your gay” tropes. A trope that, unfortunately, still exists, but inspires Esmée and other queer filmmakers to create queer stories that end differently.

In creating her queer short, Esmée strived to staff the set with queer people, and most importantly, queer actors. “There’s just something about working with other queer people,” she commented, “Because there’s always this understanding.” 

My own filmmaking career ended immediately after accepting a bachelor’s degree in film. But after four years of student films, I can easily recall the one project I co-directed with another sapphic person as the most fun and most rewarding. Esmée’s right–there’s just something about that undercurrent of solidarity. 

When it came to casting “Found Family,” finding queer actors proved even more essential. For a short film focused on queer characters and a queer storyline, Esmée prioritized authenticity. She confessed that some straight actors can play a convincing queer character (she nodded to Rachel Weisz). But for her actors, she had a desire for them “not just to play queer, but to fully understand it.” And that decision certainly pays off.

To read a full review of “Found Family” and the lesbians’ happy endings, check out Write Through the Night’s blog.

What’s Next for Esmée Lavalette?

So after the success of her first short film, what’s next for Esmée? She has a lot of possibilities on her mind. But the one thing that’s a must? LGBTQ characters. Esmée confesses to “not go without adding a bit of queerness” to whatever her next project might be.

After her work with American Horror Story, Esmée now explores the opportunity to start making her own horror films. She’s also been a fan of horror films and longs to embark on her own queer horror journey. Filmmakers that keep audiences on the edge of their seats inspire Esmée to replicate that suspense magic in her own work. (Think directors like Christopher Nolan and Jordan Peele.)

And of course, Esmée draws inspiration from lesbian filmmakers too. “I think Céline Sciamma is absolutely amazing,” she comments. Esmée goes on to explain how, especially in Portrait of a Lady on Fire, her films exude a “lesbian energy” with perfectly crafted shots and direction of actors’ performances. 

So, regardless of what projects we’ll see next from Esmée Lavalette, it’s clear that her lesbian energy will continue factoring into creative decisions. (Everyone cheered.)

You can keep up with Esmée and her work on her Instagram account.

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