‘The Moogai’, ‘Every Little Thing’ off to Sundance

Shari Sebbens in 'The Moogai'.

Writer and director Jon Bell’s debut feature The Moogai and Sally Aitken documentary Every Little Thing make up the Australian contingent bound for the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

They are two of 82 features from across the world headed for Park City next month, with the in-person festival to run January 18-28, and an online component to start January 25. There were a record 17,435 film submissions from 153 countries or territories for Sundance this year, 4,410 of them features.

Aitken’s Every Little Thing (previously Fastest Thing on Wings) will make its world premiere as part of the US Documentary competition.

The film follows Terri Masear, a woman based in Los Angeles who finds herself on a transformative journey as she nurtures wounded hummingbirds, experiencing personal growth as she witnesses their fragility and resilience.

WildBear Entertainment’s Bettina Dalton produces with Dogwoof’s Oli Harbottle and Anna Godas. Executive producers include Avid Guy Elisco, Sean B. Carroll, Alan Erson and Michael Tear, and heads of department include cinematographers Nathan Barlow, Dan Freene and Ann Prum, editor Tania Nehme and composer Caitlin Yeo.

This marks Aitken and Dalton’s second time at Sundance, with their film Playing with Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story screening in the World Cinema Documentary Competition in 2021, after which it was sold to National Geographic Documentary Films.

Every Little Thing was the first project announced as part of WildBear’s production partnership with the UK’s Dogwoof, inked last year. To be eligible for the US Documentary competition, 50 per cent of project must be financed out of the US; mission-driven production company Tangled Bank HHMI is involved in Every Little Thing‘s finance plan.

Dalton said it was an honour to have a documentary with Aitken in Sundance for the second time and as the only Australian entry in the US Documentary Competition, and exciting to see Australians elsewhere in the line-up.

“The selection is affirmation that our Australian films, no matter where they are set, can touch audiences universally on the world stage,” she said.

Bell’s The Moogai will make its world premiere as one of eight films selected for the genre-focused Midnight section.

Led by Shari Sebbens and Meyne Wyatt, who also starred in the original short on which the film is based, The Moogai follows a young Aboriginal couple who bring home their second baby.

What should be a joyous time takes a sinister turn as the mother starts seeing a malevolent spirit she is convinced is trying to take her baby. The film also stars Tessa Rose, Jahdeana Mary, Clarence Ryan and Bella Heathcote.

The Moogai is produced by Causeway Films’ Kristina Ceyton and Samantha Jennings, alongside No Coincidence Media’s Mitchell Stanley, who also produced the original short, which won the jury prize in the Midnight Shorts section at SXSW in 2021. Alex White is a co-producer.

In a joint statement, Stanley, Ceyton and Jennings said they were honoured and excited to premiere the film at Sundance.

“Sundance has a long standing relationship with Indigenous films, filmmakers and filmgoers from around the world and we look forward to continuing this relationship – it’s the perfect place to launch this special film and to share it with an international audience,” they said.

The film’s cinematographer is Sean Ryan, production designer Bethany Ryan, sound designer Emma Bortignon, composer Steve Francis, editor Simon Njoo, VFX supervisor Marty Pepper and casting directors Nikki Barrett and Natalie Wall.

Causeway are no strangers to Sundance or the genre-focused Midnight section; it is where Talk to Me premiered last year, after which it was acquired by A24 in a seven-figure deal, and where The Babadook premiered in 2014.

While the main line-up for Sundance was announced today, the short film selections and 40th edition programming will be announced on December 12.