Chinese Director Jing Zou’s ‘A Girl Unknown’ Wins Critics’ Week Next Step Prize

Chinese writer and director Jing Zou’s feature film project A Girl Unknown has won the top prize at the Next Step initiative of Cannes Critics’ Week, aimed at supporting filmmakers as they make the move from short films to their first feature.

Inspired by the true phenomenon of generations of girls who were abandoned in China as a result of the country’s one-child policy, A Girl Unknown depicts a young Chinese woman from the age of six through to her thirties, living in three different families.

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It is billed as an intimate coming-of-age story that explores existential pain, self-discovery, and how one learns to love. The film is produced by Wang Yang at Paris-based Memoria Films, which works between France and China.

Born in 1984, Zou is a Chinese director and writer based out of Shanghai and Los Angeles. She comes from a literature background, but she found her calling when she began working at Shanghai International TV station on documentaries as a director and editor.  Her short film Lili Alone (Duo Li) won the Leitz Cine Discovery Prize at Critics’ Prize in 2021.

A Girl Unknown was 10 projects participating in this year’s edition of Next Step.

Launched in 2014, the Next Step program is reserved for directors who have presented a short film at the Cannes parallel section of Critics’ Week, who can take enrol for an edition whenever they are ready with a first feature film project.

They are invited to attend a development workshop at the Moulin d’Andé artists residence in Normandy in December. Followed by meetings with producers and sales agents in Paris.

The Next Stop award comes with a 2,500€ endowment and an invitation to attend the Cannes Film Festival.

This year’s jury was composed of Roxane Arnold, Head of distribution at Pyramide Films; Marion Delord, Executive Director at the award’s sponsor Hildegarde; Markus Duffner, Head of Locarno Pro and Ioana Stais, Head of sales and acquisitions at Heretic.

Past winners of the prize include Manning Walker’s Cannes 2023 Un Certain Regard winner How to Have Sex.

To date, around 35 projects supported by Next Step have come to fruition including Universal Language by Matthew Rankin, which is in Directors’ Fortnight this year as well as Berlinale 2024 titles, Some Rain Must Fall by Qiu Yang and Arcadia by Yorgos Zois.

The 10th edition also saw the launch of Next Step Volume II, a hybrid workshop which took place last September and brought directors and composers together to work on score composition as an integral part of a screenplay.

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