Next month’s South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival will feature a bumper line-up of Australian projects.
Set to make their world premiere at the Austin, Texas event are feature films Seriously Red and Sissy, featurette Shadow, feature documentary Clean and virtual reality series Lustration VR.
Feature documentary Anonymous Club, and VR project Gondwana, which recently premiered at Sundance, will also screen.
Directed by Gracie Otto and written by and starring Krew Boylan, musical comedy Seriously Red will premiere in the Narrative Feature Competition.
In the Dollhouse Pictures film, Boylan plays Red, a vivacious but occasionally misguided red-head who trades her job in real estate for a new career as a Dolly Parton impersonator.
Starring alongside are Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale and Daniel Webber, with music from Parton, Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond and David Bowie.
For Otto it is a return to the festival, with her documentary Under the Volcano making its world premiere at SXSW last year. Jessica Carrera produces for Dollhouse, alongside Robyn Kershaw for Robyn Kershaw Productions, alongside Sonia Borella and Timothy White. Seriously Red will be distributed locally by Roadshow Films, release date TBC.
Carrera said: “SXSW is a cultural happening – the festival has a great synergy across film and music so it’s the perfect home for the world premiere of Seriously Red.”
Horror satire Sissy, co-written and co-directed by Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes, will play in the Midnighters strand on the opening night of the festival.
The film is led by The Bold Type star Aisha Dee as Cecilia (aka Sissy), a successful social media influencer living the dream, until she runs into her ex-teenage best friend on a bachelorette weekend.
Barlow, Emily De Margheriti, Daniel Monks, Yerin Ha and Lucy Barrett also star in the film, produced by John De Margheriti, Lisa Shaunessy, Jason Taylor and Bec Janek.
Shaunessy described SXSW as the “perfect festival home” for Sissy, noting its inclusion was a testament to Canberra’s screen community.
“The film is a thrill-a-minute and Arcadia distribution look forward to opening the film for Australian audiences in cinemas later this year.”.
Also making its world premiere at SXSW is Shadow, from Geelong-based theatre company Back to Back Theatre – a 56 minute film based on its award-winning ‘The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes’.
Screening in the Visions section, the film follows a trio of activists with intellectual disabilities who hold a town hall meeting about the future impacts of artificial intelligence. What begins as a polite discussion quickly descends into bickering and chaos.
It is directed by Bruce Gladwin, produced by Alice Fleming and co-conceived and co-authored by Back to Back’s core performing artists Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Simon Laherty and Sonia Teuben.
Almost all the actors on screen are people with disabilities, and the majority of the crew roles were fulfilled by interns who identify as people with disabilities supported by professional mentors.
Back to Back made the project in December 2020, pivoting to film after live performances were shut down. It builds on Back to Back’s previous short Oddlands, and was designed to create as many opportunities for people to get experience in the screen industry as possible.
Gladwin and Price told IF it was exciting as just to have finished the film, let alone to have it seen in a festival like SXSW that can expand its scope and audience.
“We had a strong agenda for this project to bring in a number of interns to work across the crew – people with disabilities that may not necessarily get an opportunity to work on a film crew and to give them mentorship and training,” Gladwin said.
Premiering in the Documentary Feature Competition is Clean, from writer/director Lachlan McLeod and producers David Elliot-Jones and Charlotte Wheaton. It provides a fly-on-the-wall insight into the world of trauma cleaning through the journey of larger-than-life business owner, the late Sandra Pankhurst, and the workers at Melbourne’s Specialised Trauma Cleaning Services.
McLeod said: “To have Clean premiere at SXSW is a huge honour and means so much to me and the production team involved. This documentary has been three years in the making, and we can’t thank Sandra and the team at STC Services enough for inviting us into their lives during this time. SXSW is a dream launch for our film, and we are absolutely thrilled to be able to participate in the 2022 festival.”
First Nation creative Ryan Griffen’s Lustration VR, an animated four-part virtual series adapted from his graphic novels of the same name, will premiere in the XR Experience Competition.
Created for Meta Quest and produced by New Canvas, the project boasts a voice cast that includes Batman‘s Kevin Conroy and Shakira Clanton and follows two protectors of the afterlife, upholding good against evil by removing those who do not belong.
Nayuka Gorrie wrote the project with Griffen, while Taryne Laffar and Carolina Sorensen produced.
Griffen said: “I was always taught that culturally, our stories were earned and not just given. I’ve been trying to apply this to our modern structures of storytelling for a while and VR is the perfect home for it. With Screen Australia’s support, we were able to assemble a world-class team and cast to bring this story to the world. Being given the opportunity to launch Lustration at SXSW, a festival that doesn’t shy away from innovation in storytelling and technology, feels like the perfect fit.”
After screening at major festivals around Australia, Danny Cohen’s portrait of singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, Film Camp’s Anonymous Club makes its international debut at SXSW.
Writer/director Cohen said: “I’m still pinching myself to have our international premiere at the incredible music and film festival that is SXSW. I’m thrilled for US audiences to experience our film on the big screen there, ahead of the theatrical releases here in Australia and then the US.”
24-hour VR documentary Gondwana, directed by Ben Joseph Andrews and produced by Emma Roberts will screen in the XR Experience Spotlight. The project features a constantly-evolving virtual ecosystem and chronicles the possible futures of the Daintree Rainforest.
Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason congratulated all films on their selection.
“To have a group of seven such distinct stories premiering at a festival renowned for launching ground-breaking work is a fantastic achievement and evidence of the wealth of unique and compelling stories coming out of Australia that are connecting with global audiences,” he said.
Every film on the SXSW line-up this year will have an in-person premiere, and films that have opted-in will also have an online screening.
SXSW runs in-person and online March 11-19.