CinefestOZ unveils finalists for $100,000 film prize

L-R, top row: 'Nitram', 'River'. Bottom row: 'The Drover's Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson', 'Here Out West'.

Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson, Justin Kurzel’s Nitram, anthology feature drama Here Out West, and Jennifer Peedom’s River will each compete for CinefestOZ’s $100,000 Film Prize.

A jury of industry guests will award the honour at the festival, due to run August 25-29 in Western Australia’s South West hubs of Busselton, Augusta-Margaret River and Bunbury.

CinefestOZ chair Helen Shervington said this year’s finalists reflected the diversity and complexity of storytelling set for this year’s festival.

“I continue to be impressed by the calibre and originality of film submissions to the festival each year, and I’m proud to say the 2021 Film Prize finalists are fantastic,” she said.

“We can’t wait for our audiences to be back at the cinema watching these films – all of which will have their WA premieres at CinefestOZ.

“The range and creativity shown across all four films is exactly why supporting Australian storytelling through filmmaking is so important.”

A feature film anthology following eight intersecting stories in Western Sydney, Here Out West was penned by emerging writers Nisrine Amine, Bina Bhattacharya, Matias Bolla, Claire Cao, Arka Das, Dee Dogan, Vonne Patiag, and Tien Tran. 

The project is the result of Co-Curious’ Behind Closed Doors initiative, a two-year development program designed to connect new voices to experienced talent, backed by Screen Australia and Screen NSW.

At the helm is a team of female directors comprising Fadia Abboud, Lucy Gaffy, Julie Kalceff, Ana Kokkinos, and Leah Purcell.

Purcell’s work can also be seen in her feature debut The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson, which will be screened at Busselton’s Opening Night event.

Set in remote Snowy Mountains, Molly Johnson’s husband is away droving sheep, leaving her to care for their children. Despite being heavily pregnant, Molly must keep various threats at bay.

Purcell directs and stars in the film, which is adapted from a Henry Lawson short story.

The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson will have its Australian debut early next month at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) following a world premiere at this year’s SXSW.

It will be joined in Melbourne by Justin Kurzel’s Nitram, which is a MIFF@CinefestOZ film.

The story depicts the lead-up to one of the darkest events in Australian history and was selected to premiere at Cannes this year – the first Australian film to do so in competition for 10 years.

Written by Shaun Grant and starring Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Essie Davis, and Anthony LaPaglia, the film will have its WA premiere at CinefestOZ.

Rounding out this year’s finalists is Peedom’s River, a documentary narrated by Willem Dafoe that examines the relationship between humans and rivers. It is a follow up to the director’s Mountain, and made in collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

All of this year’s Film Prize screenings are paired with respective ‘In Conversation’ dining experiences, where the filmmakers will detail what it was like to bring the projects to life.

The full film program for this year’s event will launch on July 29 with new and established filmmakers expected to premiere their work.

The opening night will include the world premiere of WA documentary Facing Monsters at the newly refurbished Margaret River HEART.

Directed by Bentley Dean, the film follows enigmatic free surfer Kerby Brown as he takes on some of the world’s deadliest slab waves in an attempts to reconcile his personal demons and fulfil a childhood dream.

Facing Monsters was produced by Chris Veerhuis and executive produced by Susanne Morrison.

Also announced for this year’s festival is Socratis Otto’s Homespun, which had its world premiere at CinefestOZ Albany earlier this year.

Created by a team of WA filmmakers, the film shines a spotlight on the authentic lives and relationships in rural communities.

The production was spearheaded by Kojonup producer, actor and writer Bec Bignell, with more than 100 regional Australians from all over WA involved in the project.

The festival will also include the return of ‘Cinesnaps’, the dedicated schools program, and ‘IndigifestOZ’, a specific film program showcasing Aboriginal filmmakers.

Tickets for the early bird program, including Opening Night premieres, special dining events, and short film sets are also now available to secure online.

Find out more information about this year’s festival here.