Leah Purcell, the acclaimed Indigenous actor, director and writer, was awarded the annual Sydney-UNESCO City of Film Award at the 64th Sydney Film Festival.
Laura Morelli

19 Jun 2017 - 1:25 PM  UPDATED 19 Jun 2017 - 2:20 PM

Leah is a Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri woman who grew up out bush in Murgon, Queensland. When she was 19-years-old she packed her bags and set off for Sydney, a move which shocked her family.

“They said don’t go to Sydney you’ll get shot!” she exclaimed, as she had the audience in hysterics after describing her early memories in the city. But Leah had something else in her mind.

“I told myself who knows what this little black girl from the bush will get up to?”

Create NSW awarded the $10,000 cash prize to the trail-blazing NSW-based screen practitioner, whose work stands for innovation, imagination and impact. The award was presented by Australian film director Ray Lawrence (Jindabyne), who has been an important mentor throughout Leah’s career.

Hundreds of people clapped and cheered as the award was announced at the Festival’s Closing Night Gala awards ceremony at the State Theatre, ahead of the Australian premiere screening of Bong Joon-ho's Okja.

“I’m just getting started peeps.” 

Leah will also be offered the opportunity to take a desk at ‘Charlie’s’, the hub for the Australian film-making community in Los Angeles, opened by Australians in Film, in partnership with Create NSW, AFTRS and Screen Queensland.

2017 has seen Leah’s career blossom after her adaptation of Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife, in which she also starred at Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre, won the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting and was the first play to ever win the Book of the Year prize at the 2017 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, in addition to taking the Victorian Prize for Literature earlier in the year. This year she was nominated for an Australian Directors’ Guild Award for her work directing Cleverman, and has also directed episodes of the TV series The Secret Daughter and Redfern Now.

Leah Purcell 'feels blessed' after winning Victorian Prize for Literature
Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri woman and award winning actor, Leah Purcell has claimed the Victorian prize for literature for her acclaimed play ‘The Drover’s Wife.’

One of Australia’s most acclaimed screen actors, Leah’s standout performances can be seen in films such as 'Last Cab to Darwin,' 'Lantana' and 'Jindabyne.' Not to mention numerous television series including 'Black Comedy,' 'Janet King' and 'Love Child.'

From bush to the big city, Leah is also highly regarded as one of the best Indigenous theatre directors and performers. In 2007 she won the Helpmann Award for Best Female Actor in a Stageplay for ‘The Story of the Miracles at Cookie’s Table.’

And just in case you were wondering what Leah has planned for the future, she assures 'you ain’t seen nothing yet’.

“I’m just getting started peeps,” she said as she dropped the microphone and departed the stage with her new award.

Sydney Film Festival CEO, Leigh Small said this year again, the Festival exceeded previous attendance figures – a continuing ten-year trend.

“There was an average of 72% capacity across all sessions with almost 185,000 attendances. This result marks a fitting end to Chris Freeland’s eight year tenure during which the number of people attending the Sydney Film Festival almost doubled.”

Sydney Film Festival Director Nashen Moodley said 2017 has been a significant year for film and filmmakers.  

“As the world looks for ways to understand and interpret the momentous events and challenges facing humanity, filmmakers across the globe have risen to the challenge,” he said.

“With a spotlight on questions of equality in race, sexuality, wealth, accessibility, and many other global conversations, these 12 days have provided a wealth of stories from diverse viewpoints and a moment in time to take stock of who, what and where we are today.

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