‘Audrey’, ‘The Moogai’, ‘Birdeater’ in SXSW line-up

Jackie van Beek in 'Audrey'

Australia is among the most represented countries outside of the US in the initial line-up for this year’s SXSW Film and TV Festival, with Natalie Bailey’s Audrey, Jon Bell’s The Moogai, and Jack Clark and Jim Weir’s Birdeater included in the selections.

To be held in Austin, Texas from March 16-24, the event will also include the world premiere of David Leitsch’s Sydney-shot blockbuster The Fall Guy, starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt, which is headlining alongside Pamela Adlon’s Babes.

Audrey is one of eight titles to make its world premiere in the Narrative Feature Competition.

Written by Lou Sanz, the dramedy follows Ronnie Lipsick, played by Jackie van Beek, a frustrated mother who lives vicariously through the dreams she seeks to instill in her two daughters, Norah and Audrey. When the latter ends up in a coma, Ronnie gets her second chance at the life she wanted by taking on her daughter’s identity. The cast also includes Josephine Blazier, Hannah Diviney, and Jeremy Lindsay Taylor. Audrey is produced by Michael Wrenn, Dan Lake, Shannon Wilson-McClinton, and Diya Eid.

It will compete alongside Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu’s New Zealand drama We Were Dangerous, which follows three girls — Nellie, Daisy, and Lou — who attend an institution for delinquent girls on an isolated island In 1950s New Zealand.

Bailey told IF she was “so thrilled” to have her feature debut premiere in the competition.

“This means so much to me and the team who worked tirelessly to make this happen, a fairytale outcome,” she said.

“A good fairytale, not one where a cannibalistic witch tries to push you into an oven in a gingerbread house.”

The ensemble cast of ‘Birdeater’.

After winning the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at last year’s Sydney Film Festival (SFF), Birdeater will have its international premiere in the Visions section, which showcases “audacious, risk-taking artists who demonstrate innovation and creativity”.

Produced by Stephanie Troost and Ulysses Oliver, the story follows a bride-to-be (Shabana Abeez) who is invited to her own fiancé’s buck’s party, where uncomfortable details about their relationship are exposed. The cast also includes Mackenzie Fearnley, Ben Hunter, and Jack Bannister.

In a statement, Oliver and Breathless Films’ co-founder Ben Ferris told IF that having the film reach a global audience was “mind blowing”.

“We’re so thrilled that the super-talented cast and crew led by directing duo Jack Clark and Jim Weir are getting the recognition they deserve,” they said.

“If the audience reaction at SFF is anything to go by, then this is going to be a really exciting rodeo in Austin, Texas.”

Rounding out the Australian feature selections is The Moogai, which will screen in Festival Favourite category less than two months after its world premiere at this month’s Sundance Film Festival, and three years after Bell was awarded the Jury Prize in the event’s Midnight Shorts section for the original short.

Starring Shari Sebbens and Meyne Wyatt, the horror film picks up with a young Aboriginal couple bringing home their second baby. What should be a joyous time takes a sinister turn as the mother starts seeing a malevolent spirit she is convinced is trying to take her baby. The cast also includes Tessa Rose, Jahdeana Mary, Clarence Ryan, and Bella Heathcote.

Shari Sebbens in ‘The Moogai’.

It is produced by Causeway Films’ Kristina Ceyton and Samantha Jennings, alongside No Coincidence Media’s Mitchell Stanley, who produced the original short.

Bell told IF it was an “honour and a dream” to once again contribute to the festival.

“SXSW was so supportive of the short film version of The Moogai that being able to take the feature version back there feels like somehow returning home, which may sound odd considering I’ve never actually been to Texas,” he said.

“But if there’s anywhere in the US that’s similar to Australia it’s probably Texas — we both talk slow and like BBQ and horror films. I am still pumped from 2021’s Midnight Jury Prize. I’ve got all the love in the world for SXSW; they’re like the cool cousin who shows you around and looks after you when you go and stay with family on the other side of the country, or the Pacific Ocean as it were.” 

Of the Australian short films selected, Anthony Saxe’s Australia/US production Dissolution, about a woman is forced to confront her elderly husband’s physical deterioration when they meet to sign their divorce papers, will be part of the Narrative Short Competition; Yannick Jamey’s The Big Wait, which examines a remote town that is kept in pristine condition for visitors that never seem to arrive, will have its world premiere in the Documentary Short Competition; and George Metaxas’ AUS/US animation Sweetmeats, in which array of confectionery characters reflect on their artistic practices, upbringings, and the “why” of art with a local news reporter, has been included in the Animated Short Competition.

Other titles flying the flag include Anne Berry’s music video for Rainbow Chan’s song Seven Sisters, in the Music Video Competition, and Lukasz Karluk’s exhibition of multiverse cubes Many Worlds, which will have its world premiere in the XR Experience Competition.

Additional titles for the festival will be revealed next month. Find the full line-up here.