Back to Back’s ‘Shadow’ and six other Australian films at SXSW

‘Shadow’, a film made collaboratively by people with disabilities, will have its world premiere at South by Southwest, along with ‘Seriously Red’, ‘Sissy’ and VR project ‘Lustration’.
key art from SHADOW film, credit Tao Weis

Back to Back Theatre’s debut feature film Shadow will enjoy its world premiere at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival in Austin next month, where it will screen along with six other Australian projects.

The Geelong-based company has been celebrated internationally for its innovative and collaborative approach, with an ensemble of actors with disabilities at its core.

Shadow is directed by Bruce Gladwin, produced by Alice Fleming and co conceived and co-authored by Back to Back Theatre’s core performing artists Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Simon Laherty and Sonia Teuben. It is described as a darkly humorous film based on the company’s award-winning play The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes (2019). That work, which was developed, in part, at the 2019 Sundance Theatre Lab at MASS MoCA, was described by The New York Times as ‘an extraordinary play’.

Members of Back to Back’s professional ensemble, Scott Price, Simon Laherty and Sarah Mainwaring star in lead roles, playing a trio of disability activists who hold a public meeting, desperate to save the world. As the meeting unravels, they discover the greatest threat to their future is already in the room.

Back to Back Theatre’s Bruce Gladwin. Credit: Cherine Fahd.

Director and co-creator Bruce Gladwin said: ‘As artists we are seeking alternative models of story creation and screen production. Created over two and a half years through conversation and improvisation, the performers are also the co-authors, 95% of the people on screen are people with disabilities, and the majority of the crew roles are fulfilled by interns who identify as people with disabilities supported by professional mentors. The narrative thematic and the film’s philosophical approach to the process of creation are intrinsically linked. This is community filmmaking.’

Asked by Screenhub what it meant to have the film premiere at SXSW, Gladwin said:

‘SXSW is a heady mix of music, culture and film, more than anything, it’s going to be such a fun experience for myself and Back to Back actor Scott Price to attend. Scott is a new technology junkie as well as a great advocate for artists with disabilities, it’s going to be a joy to watch him exercise his muscle in the stimulating and receptive festival environment of Austin, Texas.  

‘Making the film, we were novices. I didn’t even know we were making a “feature”, I thought it was just a longish “short film” that needed a more robust script edit. The creative team was full of ambition, operating with limited resources, just trying to hold it together minute by minute. We never anticipated a world premiere at SXSW. Personally, I’m going to keep “being a sponge” and learn as much as I can from the international experience.’

Read: The future of storytelling is collaborative

Back to Back actor and writer Scott Price.

Actor and co-creator Scott Price told ScreenHub he was proud of bring his passion and ‘autism pride’ to the script and the screen, and that the film was ‘all about human connections, disabled or not

‘Shadow is a story that needs to be told. It’s about Artificial Intelligence and disability activism. The fact that it is premiering at a festival such as SXSW shows that it is a beautiful piece of work, and the importance of telling stories from the perspective of people with disabilities.’

Shadow will screen in the SXSW Festival’s Visions section on March 12 at 6pm and will be followed by a Q&A with the ensemble.

According to SXSW: ‘Visions filmmakers are audacious, risk-taking artists in the new cinema landscape who defy traditional categorisation in documentary and narrative filmmaking.’

The seven Australian projects selected for South by Southwest Festival 2022

Screen Australia says it’s a historical record to see seven Australian projects screening at the innovative SXSW Film festival.

In 2021, Jon Bell’s Aboriginal psychological horror short film The Moogai won the Jury Award for Midnight Shorts, and in 2018, sci-fi thriller Upgrade won the midnight audience award.

This year’s Australian world premieres include feature films Seriously Red (written by and starring Krew Boylan as a Dolly Parton impersonator, and directed by Gracie Otto); and Sissy a horror-comedy by writer/directors Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes, starring The Bold Type star Aisha Dee as a social media influencer stuck in a cabin in the woods.

Bobby Cannavale and Krew Boylan in Seriously Red. Via Screen Australia.

Writer-director Lachlan McLeod’s feature doc Clean will make its world premiere in the Documentary Feature Competition section, with its ‘fly-on-the-wall insight into the world of trauma cleaning through the journey of larger-than-life business owner Sandra Pankhurst and the workers at Melbourne’s Specialised Trauma Cleaning Services.’ It’s produced by GoodThing productions and will be distributed by Madman.

Also in the feature documentary section, is Danny Cohen’s portrait of Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, Anonymous Club. Produced by Philippa Campey and Samantha Dinning, and distributed by Film Art Media, it premiered at Melbourne International Film Festival last year, followed by Cinefest Oz, Brisbane and Sydney Film Festivals.

Virtual Reality project Lustration VR will make its world premiere in the XR Experience section. Created, written and directed by First Nations creative Ryan Griffen (Cleverman) Lustration VR is an animated four-part virtual series adapted from Griffen’s graphic novel series of the same name.

Lustration VR. Via Screen Australia.

Ben Joseph Andrews and Emma Roberts’ Daintree VR project, Gondwana, which recently ran at Sundance, is also set to be showcased at SXSW

Full information of Australian projects at SXSW 2022 below, as per Screen Australia announcement.

World Premiere

Dollhouse Pictures
Director: Gracie Otto
Writer: Krew Boylan
Producers: Robyn Kershaw, Jessica Carrera, Sonia Borella, Timothy White
Executive Producers: Rose Byrne, Danny Nozell, Jack Christian, D.J. McPherson, Deanne Weir, Clare Ainsworth, Hayley Baillie, Olivia Humphrey, Josh Pomeranz
Cast: Krew Boylan, Daniel Webber, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Celeste Barber, Thomas Campbell
Australian Distributor: Roadshow Films
International Sales: Arclight Films
Production credits: Dollhouse Pictures and Robyn Kershaw Productions in Association with Invisible Wall Productions with Southern Light Films and Borella Films. Major production investment from Screen Australia and financed in association with Filmology with support from Weir Anderson, Storyd, Spectrum Films and Screen NSW.
Synopsis: Red is a vivacious but at times misguided red-head who pours herself a cup of ambition and trades her 9 to 5 career in real estate for a life under the spotlight as a Dolly Parton impersonator.​

World Premiere

Arcadia, DEMS Entertainment, The Academy of Interactive Entertainment and Freedom Films
Writer/ Directors: Hannah Barlow, Kane Senes
Producers: Lisa Shaunessy, John de Margheriti, Jason Taylor, Rebecca Janek
Cast: Aisha Dee, Hannah Barlow, Emily De Margheriti, Daniel Monks, Yerin Ha, Lucy Barrett with Shaun Martindale
Australian Distributor: Arcadia
International Sales: XYZ (North America) / LevelK (ROW)
Production credit: Principal production funding from the ACT Government, Screen Canberra and Freedom Films in association with Screen Australia, The Academy of Interactive Entertainment, Grumpy Originals and Running Girl Pictures.
Synopsis: Invited away on a bachelorette weekend, Sissy is stuck in a remote cabin with her high school bully…and a taste for revenge. #Triggered

World Premiere

Back to Back Pictures
Director: Bruce Gladwin
Writers: Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Sonia Teuben
Producer: Alice Fleming
Associate Producer: Meret Hassanen
Executive Producers: Bruce Gladwin, Tim Stitz
Production credit: Developed and produced with support from Australian Government Department of Social Services, the City of Greater Geelong in partnership with UNESCO Creative City of Design, with additional support from Give Where You Live, the Une Parkinson Foundation, and Screen Australia through the COVID-19 Budget Support Fund Program. 
Synopsis: A group of activists hold a public meeting, desperate to save the world. As the meeting unravels, they discover the greatest threat to their future is already in the room.

World Premiere
Walking Fish Productions Pty Ltd and GoodThing Productions Pty Ltd
Lachlan McLeod
Producers: Charlotte Wheaton, David Elliot-Jones
Executive Producers: Virginia Whitwell, Nick Batzias
Australian Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Australian Broadcaster: SBS
International Sales: Rocket Science 
Production credit: Principal production funding from Screen Australia in association with Film Victoria.
Synopsis: When illness forces her away from her beloved trauma cleaning business, Sandra Pankhurst faces up to her traumatic past and begins a search for her birth mother. Meanwhile, her workers approach this difficult work with camaraderie and humour, bringing hope to their clients despite carrying trauma of their own. 

World Premiere
New Canvas
Ryan Griffen
Writers: Ryan Griffen, Nayuka Gorrie
Producers: Carolina Sorensen, Taryne Laffar
Executive Producers: Nathan Anderson, Wolfgang Bylsma, Ryan Griffen, Kevin Conroy
Distributor: Meta Quest
Production credit: Principal production funding from Screen Australia in association with Screenwest and Lotterywest, with support from Screen NSW.
Synopsis: An animated four-part virtual reality series for Meta Quest developed by Byron Bay-based XR Studio New Canvas. The multistrand story follows a group of characters whose stories are mysteriously intertwined in the real world and afterlife. Lustration VR is adapted from a comic of the same name published by Gestalt Comics.

International Premiere
Film Camp Pty Ltd
 Danny Cohen
Producers Philippa Campey, Samantha Dinning
Australian Distributor Film Art Media
North American Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
International Sales: Monoduo Films
Production credit: Principal production investment from Screen Australia in association with Film Victoria and the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) Premiere Fund.
Synopsis With unprecedented access to the personal and private life of notoriously shy, but widely acclaimed Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, Anonymous Club delicately and intimately explores the inner life of an artist in conflict with herself.

Pernickety Split Pty Ltd
 Ben Joseph Andrews
Producer: Emma Roberts
Production credit: Principal production funding from Screen Australia in association with Film Victoria.
Synopsis: A world-first durational VR experience that runs over 24 hours, Gondwana is a constantly-evolving virtual ecosystem chronicling the possible futures of the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, the Daintree.

The 29th SXSW Film Festival takes place in Austin, Texas and online from 11-20 March this year.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is a journalist for Screenhub. She is a writer, film critic and cultural commentator with a PhD in Australian cinema. She was the co-host of Australia's longest-running film podcast 'Hell is for Hyphenates' and has written a memoir, Fallen, published by Affirm Press. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram