By Aurora Fearnley | Drama
A photographer falls on hard times and becomes a paparraza to support her family.

Camilla is a photographer currently freelancing on the celebrity candid circuit, grabbing pictures of movie and music stars that she can sell to tabloids and other entertainment news outlets. She wants more for herself as an artist, but she also has taken on the financial and emotional responsibility of helping her sister Esme get the treatment she needs to treat her long-term eating disorder. So Camilla needs to keep freelancing as a paparazzi photographer to pay the growing number of bills.

When Esme’s outpatient facility tells Camilla that she’s late on payments, Camilla awkwardly calls in a favor for a tip and gets one: a prominent pop star has entered a private rehab, and the first pics will command a large amount of money. Camilla goes in pursuit of the now reclusive singer but is faced with an ethical and moral dilemma.

Written and directed by Aurora Fearnley, this short drama begins with a crackle and snap of glamour, as a young star descends onto the front steps of a hotel entrance amid a halo of beauty and privilege and a battalion of camera flashes and snaps. Captured with grandly sweeping camera movements of old Hollywood, the focus on the star’s appearance nimbly shifts onto one of the photographers in the pack, a scrappy-looking young woman snapping away, the only female amidst a male-dominated profession. She accidentally gets a snap of the young star’s exposed breast, but deletes it, foregoing what would likely be a well-paid shot in consideration for the girl’s age and situation.

That opening sequence sets up both a character and situation that is thoroughly challenged in a carefully constructed script, which unspools with deft direction and storytelling. As expected from a narrative about a photographer, the film has a light-filled naturalistic visual and rhythm that reflects the off-hand energy of Camilla’s work, but the storytelling is especially impressive in how it explores an unusual level of intellectual, moral and emotional inquiry, especially for a short film.

As Camilla grapples with one hard situation after another — and not always gracefully — the story interrogates notions of sexual currency, celebrity, fame, privilege, feminism, exploitative media culture and particularly the relationship between Esme’s anorexia and the images that Camilla now takes. These currents intersect in fascinating ways in the story, but they also make Camilla’s choices as a character increasingly hard.

This is heady territory, but the film always remains emotionally engaging, thanks to an unwavering focus on a strongly delineated character, played beautifully by actor Sian Hill. As Camilla, she is simultaneously tough, loving, fierce, loyal and intelligent. She is also growing overwhelmed by the responsibility to her sister Esme, which drives her to grasp at a golden opportunity — but it may finally compromise her morally.

Well-crafted, richly drawn and excellently written, “Paparazza” is simultaneously a story of a sister who will do anything to help her sibling, an artist trapped in the merciless dictates of her job and a woman who must face her complicity in oppression. Its masterful final scene is both an unwitting confrontation, not just of a character about to achieve her objective, but of a woman facing the limits of her moral compass. Camilla must train her lens and her way of seeing not just on the stars she stalks, but on herself — and discovers she may not like what she finds.

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