Leah Purcell wins APSA Jury Grand Prize

Leah Purcell has won the Jury prize for The Drover's Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson at the 2021 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
Leah Purcell and Nashen Moodley 14th APSA Awards

The 14th Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) International Jury has awarded Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri Woman Leah Purcell OAM the prestigious APSA Jury Grand Prize for her achievement in co-producing, writing, directing and starring in The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson (Oombarra Productions and Bunya Productions).

Purcell is the first Australian to receive the APSA Jury Grand Prize, which was presented to her by APSA International Jury member and Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley.

The five-member International Jury was comprised of Moodley, as well as President, French/Vietnamese filmmaker Trần Anh Hùng, leading Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir, Indian photographer, screenwriter and filmmaker Sooni Taraporevala and President of Heaven Pictures and Director of China Film Foundation – Wu Tianming Film Fund for Young Talents, Janet Wu (People’s Republic of China). 

The International Jury said that Purcell’s film represents ‘not only an artist’s total dedication to her craft but also a spirited act of courage and tenacity. The Drover’s Wife is a film that quickly makes its way into the heart, taking a well-known genre, and exploding it into a much needed story of survival, loss, and resilience.’

The 14th APSA Ceremony, presented from HOTA (Home of the Arts), Gold Coast saw ten films from eleven countries and areas of Asia Pacific receive awards, with the event also marking the official opening of the 3rd Asia Pacific Screen Forum (Nov 11-16). 

Screen Queensland’s CEO Kylie Munnich, announcing Purcell’s award, said, ‘Born-and-raised Queenslander Leah Purcell, is one of the country’s most influential and inspiring voices in the industry, and Screen Queensland is delighted to have invested in and collaborated with Leah’s company Oombarra Productions, to facilitate the creation of new, exciting and authentic First Nations screen stories.’

In accepting the PrizeLeah Purcell acknowledged the Elders of Yugambeh Country, Gold Coast before saying ‘Thankyou to the 14th Asia Pacific Screen Awards and their prestigious Jury for your recognition of my effort in making this film, the many hats that I wore and the voice that I had given it as a First Nations woman. Truly, thank you for this validation.’

Read: Tracey Vieira and Jaclyn McLendon explain APSA and Australian filmmakers looking to Asia

‘As we know, filmmaking is a collaborative effort and I must thank and acknowledge my family Elders, Elders of the Monaro Ngarigo on whose Country we filmed, my cast, crew, Heads of Department, production personnel, producers, distributors, private investors and funding bodies for their tireless effort, expertise and experience, their trust and belief in me for wearing all of those hats, and actually pulling it off, because without them this film would not be possible.’

‘I also want to acknowledge my partner in life and business, and lead producer of the film, Bain Stewart, for his massive, tireless and unwavering effort, who stood beside me, supporting me fearlessly with determination and total belief in me and our film. Lots of love and respect to you. Without you I would not be here.’

Purcell finished in gungarri, her grandmother’s language, saying ‘Ma altjeringa yirra Baiame. Thanks to the ancestors for this very moment.’

The Drovers Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson was to have had its Australian premiere as opening night film at the 2021 Melbourne Film Festival, but has since screened at Brisbane and Sydney film festivals. It will release widely in Australian cinemas on May 5, 2022.

Continuing strong connections with Asia

It’s still rare, though becoming less so, for Australian films and filmmakers to be considered alongside their Asian counterparts. The APSA Awards and screen conference go some way to reminding us of our cinematic connections within our geographic region. Previous Australian winners of APSA Awards include Rodd Rathjen’s Buoyancy, which won Best Youth Feature in 2019.

Chair of the Asia Pacific Screen Academy Tracey Vieira said, ‘The Asia Pacific Screen Academy remains fiercely committed to supporting and celebrating the screen industries of Asia Pacific, and I congratulate all the winners in the 14th Asia Pacific Screen Awards, and acknowledge the many extraordinary nominees whose work we honoured here tonight.’

Vieira also welcomed those attending the 3rd Asia Pacific Screen Forum, which started yesterday, and has garnered an audience joining its accessible virtual sessions from as far afield as the UK, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, People’s Republic of China and Mongolia, as well as across Australia, as well as in person on the Gold Coast.

The other Grand Jury Prize

Two Jury Grand Prizes were awarded in 2021 with the other going to Abdullah Mohammad Saad, director of Rehana (Rehana Maryam Noor), for ‘the precision of its filmmaking language which made it possible, by the only specific means of cinema, to detail the psychological and factual stages of a woman’s fight for justice and to reveal, in an absolutely remarkable ending, how she prepares her little girl to be courageous and to fight all forms of injustice.’ 

This is the second film from Bangladesh to be awarded the APSA Jury Grand Prize, after Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s Television in 2013.

Drive My Car announced as Best Feature Film, awarded to director Ryusuke Hamaguchi and producer Teruhisa Yamamoto, with the film also winning Best Screenplay for Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Oe TakamasaThis is Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s second Screenplay APSA after winning the award for Happy Hour in 2016 with co-writers Tadashi Nohara and Tomoyuki Takahashi.

Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi was awarded Achievement in Directing for A Hero (Ghahreman) which the International Jury called ‘an intimate epic’.

Achievement in Cinematography went to Nguyễn Vinh Phúc for Taste (Vị), with the film’s director Lê Bảo awarded the Young Cinema Award in partnership with NETPAC and GFS.

Best Performance by an Actor was awarded to Georgian actor Merab Ninidze for Alexey German Jr’s House Arrest (Delo) with the International Jury calling his performance ‘simply extraordinary in this biting satire on political repression.’

Meanwhile, the three-member Youth, Animation, Documentary International Jury determined the winners for Best Youth Feature Film, Best Animated Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature Film. Jury Chair Anocha Suwichakornpong (Thailand) was joined by Screen International Deputy Asia Editor and Korea Correspondent Jean Noh (Republic of Korea) and internationally sought-after New Zealand animator, Antony Elworthy. 

Best Youth Feature Film was awarded to director Yoon Dan-bi for Moving On (Nam-mae-wui Yeo-reum-bam, Republic of Korea) who acknowledged the common language of cinema in her thanks for the award saying ‘the fact that the cinema is still moving forward gives me the motivation to work on the next project.’

Best Animated Feature Film went to Andrey Khrzhanovsky’s The Nose or The Conspiracy of Mavericks (Nos ili zagovor netakikh, Russian Federation) with the Jury noting how the film stood out amongst the strong field of animated films with its originality, and clear and powerful message, and, skillfully realised with traditional animation techniques, yet with a post-modern twist. 

Best Documentary Feature Film was awarded to Sabaya (Sweden). Filmmaker Hogir Hirori said ‘This award is not only an important recognition of everything that the ISIS survivors have been through but it also brings much needed attention to the fight to save the more than 2000 Yazidi women and girls that are still held captive by ISIS and reunite them with their families.’

Two special awards representing APSA’s founding partnerships with UNESCO and FIAPF were announced last week. 

The Cultural Diversity Award under the patronage of UNESCO is awarded to Sri Lanka’s Prasanna Vithanage for Children of the Sun (Gaadi). Despite many previous APSA nominations for Sri Lankan films, this award marks the first win.

The FIAPF Award for Outstanding Contribution to Asia Pacific Cinema, determined by APSA founding partner FIAPF–International Federation of Film Producers Associations, was awarded to prolific Russian producer, Sergey Selyanov.

The four recipients of MPA APSA Academy Film Fund grants were also announced during the APSA Ceremony. 

Now in its 12th year, the fund was created to support the development of new feature film projects by APSA Academy members and their colleagues from the culturally diverse Asia Pacific region. The fund awards four development grants of US$25,000 annually, and is wholly supported by the MPA. In 2021, the four recipients are: 

  • Dea Kulumbegashvili (Georgia) for HISTORIA
  • Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (Islamic Republic of Iran) for RED MIST DESCENDING 
  • Teng Mangansakan (Philippines) for THE SPELLCASTER OF TAMONTACA 
  • Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand) for 9 TEMPLES TO HEAVEN 

14th Asia Pacific Screen Awards full list of winners


Drive My Car, Japan
Directed by Ryusuke HAMAGUCHI
Produced by Teruhisa YAMAMOTO


Abdullah Mohammad SAAD for Rehana (Rehana Maryam Noor), Bangladesh, Qatar, Singapore

Leah PURCELL for The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson, Australia


Moving On (Nam-mae-wui Yeo-reum-bam), Republic of Korea
Directed by YOON Dan-bi
Produced by YOON Dan-bi, KIM Gi-hyeon


The Nose or The Conspiracy of Mavericks (Nos ili zagovor netakikh), Russian Federation
Directed by Andrey KHRZHANOVSKY
Produced by Andrey KHRZHANOVSKY


Sabaya, Sweden
Directed by Hogir HIRORI
Produced by Antonio RUSSO MERENDA, Hogir HIRORI


Asghar FARHADI for A Hero (Ghahreman), Islamic Republic of Iran, France


Ryusuke HAMAGUCHI, OE Takamasa for Drive My Car, Japan


NGUYỄN Vinh Phúc for Taste (Vị), Vietnam, Singapore, France, Thailand, Germany


Azmeri HAQUE BADHON for Rehana (Rehana Maryam Noor), Bangladesh, Qatar, Singapore


Merab NINIDZE for House Arrest (Delo), Russian Federation


Children of the Sun (Gaadi)
Sri Lanka
Directed by Prasanna VITHANAGE
Produced by Sandya SALGADO, Alan MCALEX, Ajay RAI, H D PREMASIRI, Prasanna VITHANAGE

The Cultural Diversity Award under the patronage of UNESCO is awarded to a film that creatively utilises its medium to best exemplify the manifold ways in which a society’s cultural heritage and its artistic expressions are showcased.   


LÊ Bảo for Taste (Vị), Vietnam, Singapore, France, Thailand, Germany

The Young Cinema Award in partnership with NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) and Griffith Film School (GFS) recognises the abundant emerging talent of the Asia Pacific.


Sergey Selyanov

Determined by FIAPF–International Federation of Film Producers Associations for outstanding achievement in film in the Asia Pacific region.

APSA Screen Forum Details

Leah Purcell will appear in a special virtual Asia Pacific Screen Forum event, From Page to Screen – Film Adaptations on Sunday 14 November at 10.30 AEST. 

The 3rd Asia Pacific Screen Forum is now underway, with registrations and participation invited around the globe.

Both nominees and winners will be participating in virtual streamed events including an In Conversation with Rehana producer Jeremy ChuaYoung Cinema Award winner Lê Bảo appearing in the Reel Connections event for emerging filmmakers, Jury Grand Prize winner Leah Purcell on adaptation, MPA APSA Academy Film Fund recipient Apichatpong Weerasethakul in conversation about Memoria, and a special session with APSA International Jury President Trần Anh Hùng on the Language of Cinema

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