Back to Back Theatre’s ‘Shadow’ on SFF’s Screenability line-up


Back to Back Theatre’s Shadow will have its Australian premiere at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, selected as one of six titles for the Screenability section.

The SXSW Audience Award-winning drama joins international entries, I Didn’t See You There and Straighten Up and Fly Right, in the program, designed to showcase films by filmmakers with disability.

Three Australian short films will also be shown in the strand, backed by Screen NSW’s Screenability Filmmakers Fund: Madeleine Stewart’s Inspire Me, Steve Anthopoulos’ Voice Activated, and Natalia Stawyskyj’s All Silent Dogs.

Screenability programmer Rebecca McCormack said the line-up included “powerful and provocative” films from local and international storytellers.

“Screenability places screen practitioners with disability at the centre of the narrative, bringing new ideas to audiences by sharing their authentic stories,” she said.

Based on the Geelong theatre company’s play ‘The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes’, Shadow follows a trio of activists with intellectual disabilities who hold a town hall meeting about the future impacts of artificial intelligence. What begins as a polite discussion quickly descends into bickering and chaos.

‘I Didn’t See You There’.

The film was directed by Bruce Gladwin, produced by Alice Fleming and co-conceived and co-authored by Back to Back’s core performing artists Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Simon Laherty and Sonia Teuben.

Fleming said they were now “even more excited” to share the film with Australian audiences, following last month’s SXSW debut.

“We are thrilled to have our Australian premiere of Shadow at the Sydney Film Festival,” she said.

“It continues to provide evidence that audiences and programmers are looking for more inclusive storytelling teams.”

Like Shadow, Reid Davenport’s documentary I Didn’t See You There and Kristen Abate and Steven Tanenbaum’s Straighten Up and Fly Right have both gained recognition on the festival circuit, winning the Sundance Directing Award and the Slamdance Grand Jury Prize, respectively.

‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’

In the former, Davenport examines the legacy of the freak show and the ableism people with disability continue to experience after seeing a circus tent near his home in Oakland, California. Originally from Bethel, Connecticut, the hometown of P.T. Barnum, ‘The Greatest Showman’, Davenport reflects on a time when people with disability were displayed as spectacle.

Fellow US title Straighten Up and Fly Right follows Kristen (Abate), a 20-something New Yorker who lives alone and dreams of being a writer. Meanwhile, she walks dogs for a living and smokes weed to dull the relentless pain of her Ankylosing Spondylitis, a severe form of arthritis that leaves her permanently bent over. When faced with eviction, Kristen’s world begins to unravel, forcing her to make choices and cross new thresholds – some with an older man (Steven Tanenbaum) who is in some ways her mirror image. 

Screening alongside are Straighten Up and Fly Right will be All Silent Dogs, while Inspire Me will be shown with I Didn’t See You There, and Voice Activated with Shadow.

Acting head of Screen NSW David Gordon said he was also excited to see some of the newer voices in the program.

“Screenability returns in full force this year providing poignant and insightful perspectives from exciting new talents with disability including NSW filmmakers Madeleine Stewart, Steve Anthopoulos, and Natalia Stawyskyj,” he said.

Sydney Film Festival runs in cinemas June 8-19. The first 22 titles from Sydney Film Festival’s 2022 program can be found here.