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20 Australian creatives for International Women’s Day 2021

To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day on 8 March, we’re shining the spotlight on 20 talented women in screen who you should look out for in 2021.

From film veterans, to emerging writers, and creatives in front of and behind the camera, here are some inspirational women to watch:

1. Hayley Adams: Producer/Director & 2. Michelle Melky: Producer

Heyley Adams and Michelle Melky headshotsHayley Adams, Michelle Melky

Hayley Adams and Michelle Melky are the powerhouse creator-producer duo behind the narrative TikTok series Love Songs, which has now amassed over 12.6 million views, 150k followers and 2.5 million likes. Adams is currently a producer at Balloon Tree Productions and has produced the MIFF Accelerator 2019 and Flickerfest 2020 short films There’s A Mobster Under My Bed! and Chicken, and directed Dark Thoughts, a 60-second short for the TIFF x Instagram Shorts Festival 2018. She has various projects in the works including two other web series Wicked Women and Vag of Honour. Meanwhile, Melky has previously produced online series Feedback, hosts the fan-fiction focused podcast One Shot and her work has been accepted in both local and international festivals. Outside of her independent producing, Melky is a creative producer for Amplify. 

Keep an eye out for the pair’s next producing project Scattered, an original 38 x 1 minute series co-created by Logan Mucha and Kate Darrigan, which is currently in post-production and set to be distributed exclusively on TikTok soon.

3. Sally Aitken: Director

Sally Aitken on the set of Streets of Your TownSally Aitken, Peter McIntyer and Tim Ross, Streets of Your Town

With an illustrious career spanning more than 15 years, Emmy® nominated director/writer and documentary maker Sally Aitken has been a showrunner for multiple international series and her content has been broadcast by various networks across the globe. Known for her adventurous collaborations and impressive slate, successes of note include her Camera d’Or-nominated feature documentary David Stratton: A Cinematic Life and International Emmy®-nominated Stories of Australian Cinema. More recently, the feature documentary Playing With Sharks, about the colourful life of Australian diver and filmmaker Valerie Taylor, made its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Accolades on home soil also include an Australian Directors’ Guild and Australian Writers’ Guild Award for Best Documentary series for Streets of Your Town. 

4. Violeta Ayala: Director/Writer

Violeta Ayala (Photo credit: Daniel Fallshaw) Violeta Ayala (Photo credit: Daniel Fallshaw)
A wearer of many hats, Violeta Ayala is an acclaimed Bolivian-Australian Quechua filmmaker, writer, artist and technologist, best known for directing the award-winning documentaries Stolen, The Bolivian Case, The Fight and Cocaine Prison. She has won over 50 awards both internationally and locally for her documentaries, including a Walkley in 2017, and the Jaime Escalante medal-of-honour for outstanding talent in filmmaking in 2018. It was in 2015 that Ayala took to developing projects in Virtual Reality (VR) and her new VR animation, Prison X - The Devil & The Sun, was selected for Sundance Film Festival this year. Making its premiere in the New Frontier section, the project takes audiences inside Bolivia’s San Sebastian prison. Just last year Ayala became a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the first Quechua person to do so). Through her investigative work in tackling issues of social injustice and human rights abuses, she has pushed the boundaries of documentary making and created thought-provoking films.

5. Kodie Bedford: Writer

Headshot of Kodie BedfordKodie Bedford

Growing up in Western Australia, Kodie Bedford dreamt of being a showrunner and would write her own scripts for Buffy. A Djaru woman, Bedford initially began her career in journalism before embarking on the path of film and television and becoming one of Australia’s in-demand screenwriters. She cut her teeth on benchmark programs like NITV’s Living Black and ABC’s Message Stick and has only gone from strength to strength since then. Her 2017 project Last Drink at Frida’s “opened doors” for her, including scoring a job as a note-taker in the writers’ room for critically acclaimed TV series Mystery Road, which quickly led to penning episodes in series one and two of the show. Bedford has also had a placement on Thor: Ragnarok, and her first play Cursed! was staged at Belvoir Street Theatre last year. She had her directorial debut with horror short Scout and her other screenwriting credits include Robbie Hood and Grace Beside Me. Also in the pipeline is new five-part comedy series All My Friends Are Racist of which Bedford is writing and co-producing

Read more about Kodie Bedford on big breaks here

6. Jub Clerc: Writer/Director

Jub Clerc headshotJub Clerc

Writer/director Jub Clerc is a Nyul Nyul/Yawuru woman from the Kimberley region whose creative roots stem from a background in theatre; both directing and performing. In the world of film and TV, she has worked on Mad Bastards, Satellite Boy, Jasper Jones and series one of Mystery Road, in various capacities, from casting and acting to producing. Clerc made her TV directing debut on The Heights season two, and will make her feature directorial debut with coming-of-age film Sweet As, inspired by her own experiences and due to shoot on location in the Pilbara this year. The filmmaker is also working with Truant Pictures to develop the short film Storytime into a feature (working title The Gooynbooyn).

7. Sky Davies: Cinematographer 

Multi-award winning cinematographer Sky Davies’ fascination with cinema began in her early years when she would attempt to adapt her favourite picture books into films. Fast-forward to the present-day and Davies now works across feature films, video art and TV. Her short film work has been screened at over 120 festivals across the globe, amassing her a multitude of awards including the prestigious ACS Golden Tripod for Goodnight Sweetheart. In the realm of feature films, she has recently completed principle photography for her second feature Shit due for release in 2021, and worked on the recent documentary feature Brazen Hussies, which tells the story of Australia’s women’s liberation movement. Not only is Davies experienced across shorts and documentary, but just last year, she also shot comedy series Retrograde for ABC (set in Australia’s first COVID-19 lockdown) and Get Krack!n in 2019, and has shot 2nd Unit for ABC drama Stateless and Miranda Nation’s debut feature Undertow

8. Naomi Higgins: Writer/Actor

Naomi Higgins in Why Are You Like ThisNaomi Higgins

Writer, actor and performer Naomi Higgins first got her start in stand-up comedy in Melbourne. She’s performed at Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Splendour in the Grass and was a RAW Comedy National Finalist in 2016. She’s also one of the brains behind the 2018 pilot Why Are You Like This (WAYLT), supported through the Fresh Blood initiative, which has since been turned into a six-part ABC comedy series of the same name. Why Are You Like This, which Higgins co-created, co-wrote and stars in, premiered on ABC last month, and will go worldwide on Netflix later this year. Outside of WAYLT, Higgins hosts Gamey Gamey Game, a weekly gaming comedy show on Twitch. 

9. Mabel Li: Actor

Mabel Li and Tegan StimsonMabel Li and Tegan Stimson

An exciting breakout talent, actor Mabel Li was born in Auckland and grew up in Sydney. Mabel initially went down the path of documentary filmmaking before pursuing her passion for acting, and was accepted into the Bachelor of Fine Arts at NIDA. She will now lead the cast of upcoming SBS online drama series The Tailings, and will also star in SBS’ highly-anticipated New Gold Mountain – a revisionist Western and murder mystery set during the 1850s gold rush and told from the perspective of Chinese miners. Li is also the recipient of the 2019-20 BBM Youth Award Scholarship, and hopes to continue to champion the stories of the Asian-Australian community.

10. Nakkiah Lui: Writer/Director/Actor

Nakkiah Lui Nakkiah Lui
Multi-talented Nakkiah Lui is an actor, writer, comedian and Gamilaroi/Torres Strait Islander woman. You might recognise her from sketch series ABC’s Black Comedy (which she co-wrote and starred in), or online absurdist comedy Kiki & Kitty, which she created and wrote. She is currently working on her first long-form series Preppers, which received funding in August 2020. Lui is also an award-winning playwright, with notable successes including winning the Malcolm Robertson Prize and Green Room Award for Best Independent Production in 2014, and receiving the Patrick White Playwrights Fellow for 2018. Outside theatre and TV, Lui has co-hosted two podcasts with Miranda Tapsell, Pretty For An Aboriginal for Buzzfeed and Debutante: Race, Resistance and Girl Power for Audible

11. Maggie Miles: Producer

Producer Maggie Miles spent 12 years writing, directing and producing throughout the Northern Territory, during which time she was a company director of the NT-based Burrundi Pictures, a co-producing entity on Stephen Maxwell Johnson’s 2001 feature Yolngu Boy (where she was also casting director). In the time since then, Miles has established her own production company Savage Films, and reunited with Johnson on the 2021 feature High Ground, now screening in cinemas. She has produced on Van Diemen’s Land, as well as the anthology film Tim Winton’s The Turning and 2014 feature Paper Planes. Miles has also worked in documentary, producing stories with a focus on social impact including Guilty, Dare to be Different and Class Act, and in 2015 was the recipient of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards Children’s Film Fund.

12. Hannah Ngo: Producer

Hannah Ngo headshotHannah Ngo

Hailing from Australia’s West Coast, producer Hannah Ngo is a talent to watch. After dabbling in both cinematography and producing, the latter felt like a more natural fit. Ngo has previously produced the short film Tribunal for SBS On Demand, was Screen Australia’s Producer’s Attachment on The Heights for series two and her dream is to be making films full time. Currently in production is Iggy & Ace, the first Digital Originals project of 2019 to receive production funding. Ngo will be producing in a team that also includes director Monica Zanetti (Ellie and Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)) and writer AB Morrison. The six-part online black comedy for SBS On Demand will explore friendship, addiction and recovery through a queer lens, and is filming in Western Australia. 

13. Gracie Otto: Director

Gracie Otto on the set of Under the VolcanoGracie Otto on the set of Under the Volcano

One of Australia’s most respected young filmmakers, Gracie Otto made her feature directing debut with the AACTA-nominated 2013 documentary The Last Impresario. Otto established Ralf Films in 2012 and co-founded the all-female production company Dollhouse Pictures in 2015. She has also directed two Stan series: season two of Matt Okine’s The Other Guy and 2021 release Bump, of which she directed three episodes. Also in the pipeline for Otto this year is feature documentary Under the Volcano, which was selected to screen at SXSW, a personal biopic film on her father, actor Barry Otto, and she is also directing musical dramedy Seriously Red.

14. Bruna Papandrea: Producer

Bruna Papandrea on the set of Penguin BloomBradley Trevor Greive, Bruna Papandrea and Ricci Swart on the set of Penguin Bloom

Producer Bruna Papandrea grew up in Adelaide and spent her early days chauffeuring crew and sewing prop curtains before garnering her first feature producing credit on the 2000 feature Better Than Sex. That film led to a role working at Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack’s production company, and then branching out to a producing career in the US. With a knack for taking books to the screen, Papandrea produced Wild, Gone Girl and Emmy®-award winning Big Little Lies in her successful partnership with Reese Witherspoon through their company Pacific Standard. In 2017, Papandrea founded the production company Made Up Stories with producers Steve Hutensky and Jodi Matterson who share a passion for championing women on and off screen. (For more about Matterson’s career, check out her feature in last year’s International Women’s Day list). Made Up Stories boasts an impressive slate, with two Australian films The Dry (starring Eric Bana) and Penguin Bloom (starring Naomi Watts) currently dominating the box office this year, sitting at more than $18 million and $6 million respectively at the time of writing. Other recent releases include HBO’s The Undoing (on Foxtel Now) and Netflix’s Pieces of Her (currently filming), while Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers with Nicole Kidman wrapped in the Northern Rivers last December.

Hear from Bruna Papandrea on taking books to the screen here and read more from Jodi Matterson and Steve Hutensky on Made Up Stories here

15. Leah Purcell: Actor/Director/Writer

Leah Purcell in The Drovers WifeLeah Purcell in The Drovers Wife

One of Australia’s leading actors, writers, and directors, with award-winning roles across all mediums is none other than Leah Purcell, a proud Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri woman. Hailing from Queensland, her acting career began in Brisbane where she became involved with community theatre, before moving to Sydney in 1996 to become a presenter on TV for the RED Music Channel. Roles in Police Rescue, Fallen Angels and Jindabyne followed. Over the years, she has also starred in AACTA award-winning Redfern Now, Janet King and internationally acclaimed series Wentworth (where she was nominated for an AACTA for best lead actor in a television series). Purcell has enjoyed huge success behind the camera as well. She has written for stage play and documentary Black Chicks Talking, and TV series Redfern Now, My Place and Ready for This, while notable directing credits include Cleverman, The Secret Daughter, Redfern Now and My Life is Murder. Purcell’s writing talents in theatre have seen her work performed locally and all over the world and her play The Drover’s Wife was a sellout success at Belvoir St Theatre. It is now due to be released as feature film The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson through Roadshow Films. The adaptation is written and directed by Purcell and will see her in the leading role of Molly Johnson. It has recently been selected for SXSW Festival where it will have its world premiere. There is also plenty more in the works for Purcell; she is directing on the feature film anthology Here Out West, is working on female-driven anthology Shakespeare Now and executive producing upcoming comedy series All My Friends Are Racist.

16. Daina Reid: Director

Daina Reid headshotDaina Reid

Before setting up shop behind the camera, Daina Reid began her film career as a comedy writer and actor where she cut her teeth on shows like Jimeoin and sketch comedy Full Frontal. Her move to directing saw her spend more than a decade working on some of Australia’s most popular television series, including The Secret Life of Us, The Secret River, Paper Giants, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and Offspring, before making the move overseas. In 2018, she was brought on as one of the directors for season two of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and in 2019, her episode “Holly” was nominated for an Emmy® award. She now has numerous US and UK titles to her name, including Upload, The Outsider and The Spanish Princess. Back on home turf, she has also directed the series remake of Aussie classic Romper Stomper, made her feature directorial debut with the 2010 film I Love You Too and in 2017 she received the Michael Carson Award at the Australian Director’s Guild Awards for excellence in the craft of television drama direction for her work. Reid is currently working on psychological thriller Run Rabbit Run which will see her team up again with Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), with the film due to shoot in Melbourne and South Australia. 

17. Caitlin Richardson: Writer

With a background in directing and writing for theatre as well as extensive involvement with the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre, school teacher Caitlin Richardson is an exciting emerging talent to watch. She is the writer behind the upcoming short-form online drama series The Tailings for SBS and part of its all-female “key creative trifecta” with director Stevie Cruz-Martin (PULSE), and Liz Doran (Molly, Please Like Me) who produces alongside Richard Kelly (The Gloaming) and Stephen Thomas (Looky Looky Here Comes Cooky). The 6 x 10-minute series follows a daughter’s investigation into her father’s death, set in a remote community on Tasmania’s rugged West Coast, and is set to release this year.

18. Renée Webster: Writer/Director

Renee Webster headshotRenée Webster

West Australian writer-director Renée Webster first cut her teeth on shorts before writing for The Sleepover Club and directing episodes of Marx and Venus and Streetsmartz. She has a reputation for bringing her sense of humour on board and is quite a force in the TV and cinema commercial realm. Webster was series director on both seasons of The Heights and set-up director for children TV drama Itch. She will make her feature writing and directing debut on How to Please a Woman, which received development funding from Screen Australia’s Gender Matters initiative and has been green-lit for production. It will be produced by Tania Chambers and Judi Levine

19. Jasmine Yang: Writer/Producer

Jasmine Yang is a writer and producer for both seasons of hit animated YouTube series Meta Runner which launched in July 2019. Since then the series has amassed over 14.6 million views, and the creators have a dedicated fan base through both their YouTube channels; SMG4 with 4.25M subscribers and Glitch with 302K subscribers. Also a manager at Glitch Productions, Yang’s work rocketed to huge popularity through the series SuperMarioGlitchy4 (SMG4), creating a launch pad to release Meta Runner. The series is inspired by their love of video games and esports and is set in a futuristic society. Yang was part of the original team of 10 people who wrote and produced season one over two years. Their team has now doubled in size and season two was released in 2020 after just one year in production.

Go behind the scenes with Meta Runner’s creators Luke and Kevin Lerdwichagul here

20. Monica Zanetti: Writer/Director/Producer

Monica Zanetti on the set of Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt)Monica Zanetti on the set of Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie's Dead Aunt)

In 2020, NSW-based filmmaker Monica Zanetti achieved a significant milestone; her second feature Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt), became the first Australian film to open Sydney’s Mardi Gras Film Festival in its 27-year history. What originated as a warmly-received play in 2017, became the beginning of a feature after a 36-day crowdfunding campaign in 2018 helped raise a $50,000 budget. Since its release, it has also been accepted into BFI Flare London. Zanetti has also written for Channel 10’s Sisters, was a writer/producer on ABC comedy series Tonightly with Tom Ballard and has co-written on My Life is Murder. Her debut feature Skin Deep has screened at more than eight international film festivals and earned Zanetti an AWGIE nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Zanetti is directing Iggy & Ace alongside producer Melissa Kelly (Upright), and will mentor writer AB Morrison to direct two episodes. 

For more information about International Women's Day 2021, visit here