Australian films have won in two categories at this year’s LA Shorts International Film Festival, with Jon Bell’s The Moogai awarded Best Horror and Tony Radevski’s Risen named Best Sci-Fi.
This year’s line-up, which was available to stream on-demand throughout July, featured a focus on international films, including curated programs for Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America.
The Best Horror award is yet another international accolade for The Moogai, which also won the Jury Prize in the Midnight Shorts section at this year’s SXSW Festival in March.
Starring Shari Sebbens and Meyne Wyatt, the film follows Sarah, a young mother who becomes terrorised by a malevolent spirit she believes is trying to take her children.
It was produced by Kristina Ceyton, Taylor Goddard, Samantha Jennings, and Mitchell Stanley for Causeway Films and No Coincidence Media.
A feature film version of the concept is in the works, having received story development funding from Screen Australia.
Prior to its international premiere at SXSW, The Moogai was nominated for an AACTA Award 2020 Best Short Film and won the Erwin Rado Award for Best Audience Short Film at Melbourne International Film Festival last year.
Bell told IF he was flabbergasted by the win, which he described as “huge” for the team behind the film.
“Sam, Kristina, Taylor, Mitch, and I really tried to make a genre film that spoke about a deeper issue,” he said.
“I wasn’t sure how much a story about the Stolen Generations would travel, but Native American people have had similar experiences in the US and Canada, as have the Maori in New Zealand.
“The phenomenon of Native children being permanently removed from their families as part of cultural erasure seems to have been a common trick of former British colonies.
“It naturally falls into the horror genre and that we have been recognised by LA Shorts as a genre film is a real thrill.”
Risen is also a proof-of-concept, with Radevski having secured production finance from Screen Australia to create the short film, which is produced by Pete Ireland, as well as develop a TV series bible and write a pilot episode.
The story is set in a world overrun by the epidemic of a drug called RIZE, which makes your body float off the ground while your mind experiences lucid memories. A young teen named Sean (Zen McGrath) struggles to navigate the environment until he forms a connection with lone wolf Lusi (Bernie Van Tiel). However, a new set of circumstances within their friendship leads to his morality being tested.
Radevski told IF he wrote the first draft of the script in 2017 after witnessing the impact of addiction on one of his friendships.
“Over the years, our relationship strained as their addiction grew,” he said.
“It was at this point that I wondered, ‘What if drug addiction had a more visual face and physical effect? what if you couldn’t avoid seeing it? What impact would this have on the person and society, their relationships?’, and that was the genesis of Risen.
“A virtually unstoppable ‘floating drug’ epidemic.”
The concept was selected for Berlinale Talents’ Short Film Station where it was further developed.
After finishing the film with the assistance of Screen Australia, Radevski was invited to Slamdance Film Festival’s special event, Emergence: Los Angeles, in early March 2020, only for the pandemic to halt their travel plans.
He said it was “lovely” to be part of another international event this year.
“LA Shorts International Film Festival ranks among the most prestigious and largest international short film festivals in the world, and it’s also Oscar and BAFTA accredited, so to be selected is an incredible privilege,” he said.
“But to also receive an award makes it that extra special.
“Especially when we shared the awards stage with fellow Aussie genre film The Moogai.”