'The Drover's Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson'.

Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson and Gracie Otto’s documentary Under the Volcano will lead the Australian contingent at next month’s SXSW Film Festival.

Purcell’s feature adaption of her award-winning stageplay will have its world premiere in the Narrative Spotlight section, while Otto’s story of George Martin’s AIR Studios Montserrat will debut as part of the 24 Beats Per Second section.

Based on the Henry Lawson short story, The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson follows a woman and her stubborn determination to protect her family from the harshness of life in 1893, Snowy Mountains.

Purcell directed and stars in the film, having written the screenplay from her play of the same name.

She is joined in the cast by Rob Collins, Sam Reid, Jessica de Gouw, Malachi Dower-Roberts, Tony Cogin, and Harry Greenwood.

The film is produced by Bain Stewart for Oombarra Productions and David Jowsey, Angela Littlejohn, and Greer Simpkin for Bunya Productions.

Roadshow Films will distribute the film in Australia and New Zealand, while Memento Films International is handling international sales.

Purcell is “humbled” to follow in the footsteps of the films and filmmakers who have come through the festival.

“As an Indigenous Australian woman and filmmaker, I am proud to be sharing a story that literally has mine and my family’s DNA all over it and to be able to share our cultural practise as storytellers through film to the world,” she says.

“I wish I could be at SXSW for the film’s premiere but I’ll be with you in spirit.”

The other Australian feature to premiere at SXSW centres on a recording studio founded by The Beatles producer Sir George Martin, while celebrating the creative process of recording artists such as The Police, Paul McCartney, Duran Duran, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Earth Wind and Fire, and the Dire Straits

Under the Volcano was written by Ian Shadwell, Cody Greenwood, and Otto, with Greenwood’s Rush Films producing the documentary.

Otto says the significance of AIR Studios and its isolation “feels even more timely” given the current state of the world.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the inner workings of creative artists and the artistic process,” she says.

“Even more so whilst researching and interviewing some of the greatest recording artists of our time for this film.

“Collectively they have created an unprecedented body of work behind the closed doors of AIR Studios and documenting this process was a pure joy.”

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason paid tribute to both Purcell and Otto for their respective films.

“To have your feature directorial debut selected to screen at this acclaimed film festival is a remarkable feat and testament to Leah Purcell’s talent as a storyteller,” he says.

Under The Volcano has found a perfect stage at SXSW for its world premiere.”

Known for celebrating the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries, SXSW will be held online March 16 – 20. The film festival program includes 75 features and 53 films from first-time filmmakers.

Other Aussie projects to feature at the event include Jon Bell’s short film The Moogai – a psychological horror about a young mother, Sarah, who becomes terrorised by a malevolent spirit she believes is trying to take her children.

The horror short will screen as part of the Midnights Shorts section, having premiered at last year’s Melbourne International Film Festival and been shown at Flickerfest 2021.

Bell describes being a part of SXSW as “a huge thrill”.

“The festival pulls from a number of mediums and speaks to multiple disciplines,” he says.

“I think The Moogai will find an audience with the patrons of SXSW because they’re up for the kind of story we’re telling.”

Australia also has an entry in the Virtual Cinema competition, with Lauren Moffatt’s immersive story of human and non-human connectedness, Of Hybrids and Strings, to have its world premiere at the event.

Click here for the full SXSW program.

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