Alex McFry never imagined showing a film at an international film festival, especially one whose main character was a reflection of himself.
“It’s the most terrifying thing to do to put a character on paper that is based on your own experiences,” he said. “It’s not me obviously, but it’s based on kind of what I went through and how I coped.”
McFry, a graduate of White Plains High School and Jacksonville State University, was diagnosed with HIV. He channeled his emotions into a short film.
“Heads Up” was one of 11 short films shown at the Emerging Filmmaker LGBTQ Showcase on Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival in France.
“The film is based on my own HIV diagnosis, which happened when I was in my last year of undergrad at Jacksonville State,” McFry said. “I was diagnosed, and I didn’t really have time to deal with it fully.”
He said the year of his diagnosis was “rough” because he was preparing for graduation and applying to graduate programs.
“It was a very long year of finding myself and knowing how to be alone and how to exist on my own,” he said.
McFry said he did not take time to cope with his diagnosis until getting settled into the graduate film program at Florida State University.
“My second semester at FSU, I took a step back and started putting everything on the page that I had not dealt with emotionally that was kind of packed up,” he said. “And that’s what makes this different is it’s such a personal thing, and I’ve never done it before. ”
McFry said his support system helped him get through the tough time.
“I am very lucky to have such supportive family members,” he said. “They were very gracious and caring and rallied around me a lot.”
“Heads Up” follows Ethan, a man diagnosed with HIV, through the first steps of acceptance.
“He realizes that he is going to be all right, and he is going to be able to live his life,” McFry said. “And things are not going to be as balls-to-the-wall insane as he thought originally. You know, everything would not be as dark and dismal as he thought.”
McFry said the film is a Southern-based story, and he tried to bring in his Southern roots to tell the story.
“That’s my main target audience,” he said. “To have that conversation in a place where nobody really has that conversation.”
McFry said seeing his film screened at the festival was “very nerve wracking.”
“While I was watching it, I was like ‘I want to throw up,’” he said. “When it was over, it was nice because you got to see so many different voices in one space and the filmmakers that are connected to them.”
He is now pursuing his master’s degree at FSU to be a producing specialist. He plans to move to Los Angeles in September.
FSU paid for McFry’s airfare to the festival, and the Colin Higgins Foundation funded the rest of the trip, which covered everything except food and souvenirs.
The Colin Higgins Foundation was founded in 1986 with a mission to focus on supporting LGBTQ youth, according to its website.
“I am one of the first Colin Higgins ambassadors, which is a fancy way of saying they gave me the money to cover the American Pavilion Student Business Film Program,” McFry said.
McFry said receiving the scholarship was “pretty crazy” because he forgot to complete the initial application.
“I got an email from the foundation asking if I was still in need of financial assistance,” he said. “Of course, I emailed them back immediately and said ‘Yes! Absolutely! I am very poor and very gay!’”
McFry said he has loved immersing himself in French culture with a job at the American Pavilion coffee bar.
“I can get off from my three-hour shift at the coffee bar, change clothes and walk across the street and be in literally the largest film market in the world, which is insane,” he said.
McFry said his next film project focuses on the story of Viola Hyatt, who in 1959 killed two brothers in Rabbittown and dismembered their bodies, becoming known as the “Torso Slayer.” He said he hopes to screen the film in the Anniston and Jacksonville areas in August.