MOVIE OF THE WEEK March 1, 2024: SHAYDA

Trauma and abuse fuel a Persian woman’s determination to change her life — and that of her young daughter — in writer/director Noora Niasari’s compelling feature drama debut Shayda. Thanks to Niasari’s sensitive script and empathetic direction and star Zar Amir Ebrahimi’s excellent performance, the result is a film that’s likely to leave viewers feeling both rage at misogynistic traditions and hope for the possibility of change, transformation, and renewal.

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SHAYDA – Review by Loren King

In her compelling feature debut about a young mother’s flight from domestic abuse, Australian-Iranian writer/director Noora Niasari creates tension that simmers from the first scene to the last frame. Zar Amir Ebrahimi is superb as the title character, a Iranian woman living in Australia in 1995 with her young daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia). Shayda is attempting to leave her abusive husband, Hossein (Osamah Sami), a medical student who intends to move back to Iran with Shadya and Mona, despite Shayda’s steps to obtain a divorce. Fearful that the angry Hossein will abduct Mona, Shadya and her daughter take refuge in a women’s shelter run by the non-nonsense but compassionate Joyce (the excellent Leah Purcell.

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SHAYDA (Sundance FF2023) – Review by Nadine Whitney

Iranian-Australian director Noora Niasari’s potent and essential debut is based on her childhood experiences. As a child Noora was living in a women’s shelter after her Iranian mother had to flee her abusive father. Noora asked her mother to write an autobiography of her experiences dealing with the constant fear of her retributive husband, exile from the Persian community in Australia, and the determination to raise her daughter in as stable an environment as possible. The memoire became Niasari’s basis of Shayda. Shayda received the Audience Award for World Cinema: Dramatic at Sundance Film Festival 2023.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK August 19, 2022: THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON

Race, feminism, marriage, motherhood, and colonialism are the potent ingredients in Leah Purcell’s grim but powerful Australian drama The Legend of Molly Johnson. Based on Henry Lawson’s 1892 short story The Drover’s Wife, the film tells the story of the titular Molly (Purcell), a strong, independent woman who wants nothing more than to be able to raise her children in peace and safety. But life in the late-19th century outback makes that a very unlikely wish.

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THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON – Review by Sherin Nicole

The British Empire’s predisposition towards planting flags in other people’s living rooms fomented quite a few parallels in history. One of those lies in the colonization of the American Frontier and of the Australian Bush. The seizing of lands, the vilification of the Indigenous populations, and the culture of violence beneath a thin veneer of religion were wrought by men who called themselves pioneers. On paper, other than the accents, it is difficult to tell the two apart (this is sarcasm and yet it is also truth). These parallels are what make the Western such an apt genre for 1893 Australia, but when those wild “western” lands are pitched as a metaphor for Aboriginal Australians and untamed womanhood the genre takes a turn.

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THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

Just like her gutsy titular heroine, Aboriginal actress Leah Purcell proves herself to be quite a quadruple threat as the star, director, writer and co-producer of The Legend of Molly Johnson. Set in 1893 and based on Henry Lawson’s short story The Drover’s Wife, the film is set in raw and brutal outback in Australia. Purcell portrays an indigenous woman whose husband is often far away from home as he accompanies a herd of sheep across the high country.

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THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON – Review by Leslie Combemale

Purcell’s story takes the Australian romantic myth of frontier freedom and egalitarianism for all, and blows it to smithereens, giving audiences a bleak look into the challenges for indigenous people and women of the time. She is also up to the task as a performer to make Molly, a powerful, stoic survivor, completely believable, and her character someone for whom the audience wishes more than just suffering and survival. Molly is the ultimate mother archetype, and as such arouses our deepest feelings of empathy and compassion.

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Intersectionality at SXSW 2021 – Leslie Combemale reports

This year at SXSW there are a number of powerful female filmmakers of color who are shining a light on important social issues both through narrative and documentary films, employing women of color in front of and behind the camera. They are an inspiration not only for their commitment to diverse voices, but also for creating great content worthy of our attention. Here are some of the best offerings at the fest you can see right now.

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THE DROVER’S WIFE: THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON (SXSW 21) – Review by Leslie Combemale

In Australia, the first laws against domestic abuse were passed in the 1970s. Back in the 1800s, it wasn’t seen as a crime. That’s the era in which Indigenous writer/director/lead actor Leah Purcell’s film The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson takes place. The film takes the Australian romantic myth of frontier freedom and egalitarianism for all, and blows it to smithereens, giving audiences a bleak look into the challenges for indigenous people and women of the time.

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THE DROVER’S WIFE: THE LEGEND OF MOLLY JOHNSON (SXSW 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

It might be hard to watch The Drover’s Wife and resist the temptation to draw parallels with Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale. Like The Nightingale, the film pivots around the relationship between a man and a woman from very different cultural and social positions based largely on their perceived race. Gendered violence and a revenge also feature heavily, but The Drover’s Wife deviates from The Nightingale significantly if only due to their very different histories, both in terms of their productions and their broader cultural legacies.

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