Maiah Stewardson and Markella Kavenagh in 'My First Summer'.
Prior to entering the world of J. R. R. Tolkien as part of Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings series, Markella Kavenagh undertook an exploration of queer love and intimacy in regional Victoria via Katie Found’s My First Summer.
While there is a sizeable gulf in the scale of the two projects – My First Summer was made on a shoestring budget and Amazon reportedly paid close to $US250 million for the rights to LOTR back in 2017 – both are set to reach a global audience, with the Australian independent film sold to international distributors Salzgeber, Peccadillo, Nexo Plus, Supo Mungam and Outplay for a Q2 2022 release.
Currently streaming on Stan, the coming-of-age drama will soon be available on VOD in the US, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Scandinavia, Brazil, Spain and Japan.
Kavenagh plays Claudia, a 16-year-old that has grown up in isolation from the outside world and finds herself stranded on a remote property after her mother’s death. She confronts a new set of circumstances when Grace (Maiah Stewardson), a spirited local teen, appears in the garden like a mirage, with the pair offering each other support, love and intimacy as they learn the restorative power of human connection. Conflict emerges when the adult world closes in and threatens their secret summer love.
Written and directed by Found, the film was produced by Alisha Hnatjuk and Noise and Light’s Jonathan Auf Der Heide, with Matthew Chuang serving as cinematographer.
After premiering at last year’s Adelaide Film Festival, it went on to screen locally at the Mardi Gras and the Melbourne Queer Film Festivals and internationally at BFI Flare in London, the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Canada’s Inside Out Film Festival, and the Outshine Film Festival in the US.
Kavenagh told IF the film’s focus on the connection between Claudia and Grace and how they navigate their growing relationship in the face of adversity helped to convey universal themes.
“Especially being teenagers, I think how deeply and seriously their love was taken has resonated with so many people across the globe. That’s been really wonderful to see,” she said.
“Gender expression and sexuality aren’t explicitly mentioned, it just is. I remember it being really important to Katie to ensure that sexuality wasn’t an obstacle preventing them from being together and that the focus is their connection and care for each other.”
The young actress has been back in Melbourne after wrapping season one of the Lord of the Rings in New Zealand, where she joined fellow Australian actors Tyroe Muhafidin, Charlie Vickers, Geoff Morrell, Fabian McCallan and Sara Zwangobani.
Kavenagh was reportedly one of the first attached to the prequel fantasy series, which will premiere on Prime Video on Friday, September 2, 2022.
It’s the latest feather in the cap of a burgeoning career that has already included roles in The Cry, Romper Stomper, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and True History of the Kelly Gang.
The 21-year-old said acting in projects alongside “super passionate” creatives had been a common thread for her so far.
“There’s a real respect between the people that you’re working with, so I feel if that can carry over to the next project I do, then I’ll be very content,” she said.
“It can get overwhelming if you start to focus or dwell on the scale of something.
“It’s really helpful to focus on the story that you’re telling and telling it truthfully, as well as being respectful of everyone who you’re collaborating with.”
“My number one priority is acting but I really appreciate how writing can create some opportunities, hopefully in roles that I would either write for myself or other actors and people that I love that I really want to see in projects,” she said.
“I’ve got so much to learn, so I’m just doing various exercises at this point, but I do feel like with acting that you are at the mercy of other people’s decisions, so it’s really nice to feel like you have some kind of control or an opportunity to create opportunities for yourself at some point.”