San Francisco artist Lucy Gray makes her filmmaking debut with this charming short, which mixes the magic of a timeless fairy tale with a contemporary vibe of self-reliant courage.

The eponymous Genevieve is a young girl who builds a boat with her father. He teaches her how to sail, but she is afraid to go out on a lake by herself. Instead, she uses the dock-moored craft for picnics with two puppets that she treats as imaginary friends. One day, her father is abruptly forced to go away, and Genevieve believes that he will hurry back if she goes out sailing by herself. Out on the lake, however, a storm erupts, and Genevieve is forced to tap into her sailing knowledge and her inner strength in order to return to shore.

“Genevieve Goes Boating” is presented in a rather unusual manner. Much of the film is staged amid drawn flats created by set designer Benjamin Pierce, which gives the impression of a theatrical presentation captured on camera. And Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton provides a continual narration throughout the film, taking on the voices of the spunky child and her puppet pals while detailing the action in a soothing manner reminiscent of a beloved parent’s bedtime storybook readings.

In lesser hands, this could have resulted in something a bit too twee for comfort – but Gray’s imaginative production creates an original and wise work that mixes different artistic traditions into a unique concept. It is an idiosyncratic experiment that pays off wonderfully, with a rich visual concept and jolly voice performance by Swinton that keeps the viewer enchanted from start to finish.

Genevieve ultimately emerges as the hero of her own adventure, while Gray emerges as a new cinematic hero who is willing to challenge the protocols of indie filmmaking with a highly distinctive style.

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