Robyn Nevin with Natalie Erika James.

Natalie Erika James aims to use the global attention and profile of the Sundance world premiere of her debut feature Relic to gain traction on an upcoming project.

The US-born, Japanese-Australian filmmaker and her frequent collaborator Christian White have finished the first draft of Drum Wave, a folk horror feature inspired by their eponymous 2017 short film.

Funded by Screen Australia’s Hot Shots program, the short screened at the Sydney Film Festival, Flickerfest and numerous international festivals.

The plot followed a pianist who goes to a remote island in China where she is forced to confront motherhood issues as the town holds its annual fertility festival. For the feature budgeted at $8 million, she has switched the location to Japan.

The project got valuable impetus by winning the $US10,000 co-production award at the International Film Festival and Awards Macao project market held during the festival in Macao.

Carver Films’ Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw, who produced Relic with Nine Stories’ Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker, will produce Drum Wave with James and are in discussions with potential Japanese co-producers.

As well as attending Sundance, where Endeavor Content will launch international sales of the psychological horror movie, she will visit Los Angeles and New York and meet with her reps at WME.

The second film developed through Screen Australia’s Gender Matters initiative to go into production, Relic stars Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin and Bella Heathcote in the tale of three generations of women who are haunted by a manifestation of aged dementia that takes over their family home.

Nevin plays Edna, the elderly and widowed matriarch of the family who goes missing. Her daughter Kay (Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Heathcote) travel to their remote family home to find her. Soon after her return, they discover a sinister presence is haunting the house and taking control of Edna.

“Seeing the film for the first time with an audience will be nerve-wracking,” Natalie tells IF.

Umbrella Entertainment will distribute the film co-funded by Screen Australia and Film Victoria.

Since signing with WME two years ago, James has received a number of offers to direct US films but none has enticed her so far, partly, she says, because “I have such a strong passion to develop my own projects.”

Her slate includes two horror movies, one set in LA, the other in NY. By the time she and White finalise the script for Drum Wave she expects to start shooting in early 2021.

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