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Alumna’s Debut Feature Wows Critics at Venice

Ben Mendelsohn, Eliza Scanlen, Shannon Murphy and Toby Wallace at Venice Film Festival

Babyteeth, the debut feature of alumna Shannon Murphy (Graduate Diploma in Directing, 2013) has wowed critics after its world premiere in Official Competition at Venice Film Festival.

In addition to receiving rave reviews, one of the film’s lead actors, Toby Wallace has taken home the Marcello Mastroianni prize for his performance in the feature.

The feature, which screened in Official Competition at the festival, showcases the work of several AFTRS alumni, including producer Alex White (Graduate Certificate in Producing, 2011), cinematographer Andrew Commis (Master of Arts – Film & TV Cinematography, 1998), production designer Sheree Philips (Graduate Diploma in Production Design, 2012), composer Amanda Brown (Graduate Certificate in Screen Composition, 1999) and 2018 Master of Arts Screen: Production Design graduate Laura Anna Lucas who was selected by Screen NSW (Create NSW) for a six-week paid design assistant position on the film.

Still from ‘Babyteeth’ | Dir. Shannon Murphy

Adapted by Rita Kalnejais from her Belvoir Theatre play, starring Ben Mendelsohn, Essie Davis and Eliza Scanlen, the drama centres around a terminally ill teenage girl who, determined to live her life to the full, begins to clash with her protective parents.

Indiewire’s David Ehrlich said “It keeps you on your toes from the moment it starts, brings together a winsome but wounded group of people who are all struggling to slay the “tiny gods” in their heads, and then forces them through an ordeal that might just break their hearts. And yours.”

Guy Lodge of Variety praised it as “The most youthful and surprising entry in this year’s Venice competition”, saying the film “arrives fully formed in its bite, with a balance of fluorescent stylistic edge and broad emotional accessibility.”

Lee Marshall of Screen Daily called the feature a “funny, affecting group portrait, a comedy-tinged family drama” and commended Scanlen’s performance, saying the actor “lends Milla a self-sufficient strength and willful contrariness that keeps flickering into vulnerability and despair”.

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney said that Murphy and the characters “become attuned to the melancholic inner lives of the people onscreen and the movie benefits immeasurably, with a series of concluding chapters that deepen our access to the characters’ emotional experience and make the loss they face genuinely affecting.”

He linked Babyteeth to a line of iconic Australian works (some of which, made by our alumni): “The film can loosely be tied into a lineage of Australian cinema from the late ’80s and into the ’90s, centered around idiosyncratic young female protagonists who march to the beat of their own drum — Sweetie, Celia, Muriel’s Wedding, Love Serenade — even if the endgame for Murphy is more sorrowful.”

The feature’s success comes just before Shannon Murphy, whose previous credits include directing television dramas Offspring, Love Child and Sisters, is set to board BBC’s Killing Eve to direct season three.

The film was backed by Screen Australia in association with Create NSW with support from WeirAnderson.com, Whitefalk Films, Jan Chapman Films and Spectrum Films and will be released via Universal Pictures in Australia and New Zealand.