Katie Found's debut feature offers a beautiful and tender portrait of two young women grappling with sexuality and growing up
Halfway through My First Summer, two sixteen-year-old girls sit at a garden table and, in an attempt to seem sophisticated, drink cups of fresh black coffee. But the bitterness, it turns out, is too much for them to handle. To better suit their juvenile palettes, they use marshmallows as sugar cubes and gorge on pancakes slathered with jam. Beautifully captured in this simple scene is the complex amalgamation of youth and adulthood that characterises the heart of writer-director Katie Found’s coming-of-age drama.
Claudia (Markella Kavenagh) has lived a sheltered life, her existence kept a secret by her troubled mother. When tragic circumstances leave her completely alone, it is the quirky and high-spirited Grace (Maiah Stewardson) that draws Claudia out of isolation. Becoming each other’s secret escape, the girls embark on a journey of love and growth.
So often in film, teenagers are denied the opportunity to still be children, but Found wisely places a sense of childlike naivety front and centre. These girls are given space to be awkward, to be timid and shy about kisses and pinky promises. After developing feelings between these young women have fully blossomed, both openly admit to having no idea what they’re doing as they slip into bed next to each other.
My First Summer’s greatest strength is its relatability and the immense focus it puts on the process of becoming. Claudia, accustomed to a life of strict regulations from her mother, states that she hates the word “must.” With this proclamation, Found’s film advocates for the trial and error of being a teen; Claudia and Grace’s relationship is one that evolves gradually over the course of the short runtime, taking care to revel in mistakes and learning curves.
Found’s eye is never intrusive, but always careful and considered, shyly capturing intimate moments as they unfold on screen. Each scene boasts a warm glow and an abundance of natural light, hazily swarming each character and emphasising the dreamlike qualities of the safe-space these girls have created away from prying adults. Narratively a slow burn, the film is far more concerned with the joy of the present and is all the better for it.
My First Summer is ultimately a film about balance: the balance between childhood and adulthood; the balance between submitting to grief and moving on; the balance struck between two people in a relationship. This is a wonderfully tender debut, a testament to how indulging in a little sweetness can help the bitter taste of adulthood to go down.
My First Summer was screened as part of the BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival 2021. A UK release date is yet to be announced.Where to watch