Jon Bell’s ‘The Moogai’ triumphs at SXSW

Three emerging Northern Territory screen practitioners will benefit from attachments on the Sydney set of 'The Moogai'.

Jon Bell’s psychological horror short The Moogai was among the winners at this year’s SXSW, awarded the Jury Prize in the Midnight Shorts section.

Starring Shari Sebbens and Meyne Wyatt, the film follows Sarah, a young mother who becomes terrorised by a malevolent spirit she believes is trying to take her children.

It was produced by Kristina Ceyton, Taylor Goddard, Samantha Jennings, and Mitchell Stanley for Causeway Films.

A feature film version of the concept is in the works, having received Story Development Funding from Screen Australia.

Prior to its international premiere at SXSW, The Moogai nominated for an AACTA Award 2020 Best Short Film and won the Erwin Rado Award for Best Audience Short Film at Melbourne International Film Festival last year.

The SXSW Jury said it was “proud” to recognise a film which affected it “on so many levels”.

The Moogai is a haunting, psychological thriller that explores postpartum depression in an impressive display of disciplined filmmaking that stuck the landing at every pivotal moment,” the Jury said.

“The cinematography is striking, the actor’s performances are brave, and the underlying commentary on a country’s forced removal of generations of children is heartbreaking.”

Speaking via video, Bell admitted the award came as a surprise.

“When SXSW contacted me, because I’m a techno doofus, I thought it was because I hadn’t done something with the online component, so I felt like I was getting called into the principal’s office,” he said.

“But that wasn’t the case – I won.”

The Moogai was part of a strong Australian contingent at this year’s SXSW, which also included Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson, Gracie Otto’s Under the Volcano, as well as Lauren Moffatt’s Of Hybrids and Strings in the Virtual Cinema Competition.