Kristen Stewart dives into grief in Cannes directorial debut

Kristen Stewart’s directing ambitions go all the way back to when she was an 11-year-old performing in the 2002 David Fincher thriller “Panic Room.”

“I was working with Jodie Foster and I was like, ‘I’m going to direct. I’m going to be the youngest director that like exists,’” Stewart recalled in an interview at the Cannes Film Festival.

It took longer than Stewart expected, but she has now made a short film titled “Come Swim” that, after debuting at Sundance, she has brought to Cannes.

It announces her filmmaking ambitions and opens a new chapter in the fast-moving career of the 27-year-old actress. Stewart is already developing several other projects and plans to turn “Come Swim” into a feature-length film.

When she told Foster she was finally making something, Stewart says, “She was like, ’Dude, the first thing you’re going to realize is that you have nothing to learn.”

“Come Swim,” which will later debut on the women’s website Refinery 29, isn’t your standard actor-made directorial debut. It’s a 17-minute metaphorical rendering of a feeling, of the overwhelming oppression of heartbreak and grief. A man is submerged, literally, by water everywhere.

Stewart describes the film as about “aggrandized pain” and says its imagery has haunted her for four years.

“You don’t realize when you’re trudging through that water, you feel so alone,” Stewart says on a balcony overlooking the Cannes coastline. “We’ve all been there. But when you’re in it, you feel like you can’t participate in life.”

In many ways, “Come Swim” reflects something essential about Stewart: she is hyper alert to her surroundings and her emotions. It’s a quality that has probably helped make her, in the eyes of many (particularly the French, who made her the first American actress to win a Cesar award for the Cannes entry “The Clouds of Sils Maria”) a performer of twitchy, alive sensitivity.

“I am so sensitive it drives me crazy,” says Stewart. “It’s funny (that) the first movie I wanted to make was basically just a movie about somebody who is like, ‘You don’t get it! It’s horrible!’”

Cannes has been an especially meaningful place for Stewart, having come here with her two Olivier Assayas collaborations, “Personal Shopper” and “Clouds of Sils Maria,” and the Jack Kerouac adaptation “On the Road.”

Still, coming to Cannes as a director is what most filmmakers dream of.

“Oh my God, I’m like tripping out. It’s crazy. I mean honestly, I think Thierry (Fremaux, festival director), is being nice to me or something,” says Stewart. “He’s just like, ‘OK you can show your little movie here.’ I’m like, ‘Thank you!’”

Getting behind the camera was also a way for Stewart to be the kind of director she herself appreciates — one that favors discovery over heavily scripted control.

“The worst is when directing becomes correcting,” she says. “It’s like: ‘Do it all yourself then. Why are you even making movies?’ I don’t want packaged and delivered ideas.”

“Come Swim,” abstract and impressionistic, is certainly not that. For an actress who remains a considerable box-office draw, her film is little concerned with matching audience expectations.

Right now, she’s trying to carve our more time for directing — a challenge for a performer drawn to independent productions.

“I mean I love acting too, though. Like I don’t want to trade one for the other. But acting in movies is so time consuming that I need to sort of be like, ‘No.’ I need to sort of allow myself to not be greedy or something,” says Stewart.

Making “Come Swim,” she says, is the most fun she’s had on a set.

“I look at it and it’s its own thing and it’s like, ’I’m so proud of it,’” says Stewart. “It’s not even like I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of it.”

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