James Robert Woods gets underway on ‘Moonrise Over Knights Hill’

The key cast of 'Moonrise Over Knights Hill'. Top row, L-R: Sapphire Blossom, Robert Preston, Nicola Frew, David Quirk. Bottom row: Josephine Starte, Luke Jacobz, Annelise Hall, Ben Gerrard.

Writer-director James Robert Woods and producer Stephanie Jane Day will make their feature debut with Moonrise Over Knights Hill, a dark satire now shooting in Robertson in NSW’s Southern Highlands.

The independently-financed film, billed as “White Lotus meets Gummo” or “Discreet Charm meets Melancholia” explores the nuances of dysfunction among the upper middle class and their implications on the working class.

It follows three lapsed high school besties, Clare, Angie and Isabel, who are spending a luxury weekend away at a six-star farmstay with their partners in tow. While the women share a nostalgic bond, the men are strangers, and the simmering social machinations test the couples’ loyalty. Meanwhile, across the perfectly manicured grounds, a fraught relationship between the farmstay’s caretaker and his partner threatens to derail the weekend.

Nicola Frew stars as Clare, Josephine Starte as Angie and Annelise Hall as Isabel, while Ben Gerrard, Luke Jacobz, and David Quirk play the three women’s partners. Robert Preston is the caretaker and Sapphire Blossom his fiery, anti-establishment partner.

Moonrise Over Knights Hill is the first feature project from Woods and Day’s production company, Badlands, which is focused on auteur-driven work and through which they have produced a number of shorts and music videos. Woods’ recent short Svengali premiered at Revelation Perth International Film Festival last year and has been playing the festival circuit since, while Day’s short False as A Beach is about to screen at SXSW Sydney.

Woods wrote the script for Moonrise Over Knights Hill over four weeks in July 2022, and he and Day, his wife, have been working to bring it to screen since. The shoot began on Tuesday, and will continue on location for three weeks.

“Badlands prides itself on creating authentic, challenging Australian cinema. We feel it necessary to make the type of films often overlooked by funding bodies and mainstream studios. Moonrise Over Knights Hill is the first example of that,” Day tells IF.

Woods will also serve as cinematographer, with other heads of department and crew including wardrobe designer Olivia Simpson, production designer Rose Montgomery, hair and makeup designer Amelia Fell, gaffer Nick Gascoine, sound recordist Nathan Bell and line producer Stephanie Di Giacomo.

Gerrard, Starte, Quirk and Blossom have previously starred in other short films produced by Badlands.

While Badlands has had preliminary discussions with distributors and sales agents, the aim is to get the Moonrise Over Knights Hill in the can before shopping it.

Badlands is also in development on femme manifesto The Ceremony, written and to be directed by Day. Simpson, Fell and cinematographer Dimitri Zaunders are attached to the project.