Busselton film buffs were thrown into a politically charged landscape on the opening night of CinefestOZ with the WA premiere of The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson. Directed by and starring renowned Aboriginal creator Leah Purcell, the fierce Indigenous western is the latest take on Henry Lawson’s classic short story The Drover’s Wife, adapted from her own play. Audiences laughed, cried and gasped in shock throughout the heart-wrenching story about a mother defending her children from all manner of threats in an isolated Snowy Mountains hut in 1893. Purcell, 50, plays a heavily pregnant Molly Johnson living in a hut with her children while her husband is away droving. Intruders test her strength and bring up secrets from the past, including an English police officer, played by Sam Reid, assigned to a nearby town with his wife, played by Jessica De Gouw, and an Aboriginal fugitive, played by Rob Collins. It’s a story about a woman’s strength, fighting back against deep racism and violence — something the Goa, Gunggari, Wakka Wakka Murri woman warns her audiences to “strap in” for. “I’ve been calling the screenings my birth because I’ve been pregnant with this project for so long and I’m finally getting to show it to the world,” Purcell said. “It’s a story of mother’s love, survival, hope and the hardship that comes from that time. It takes people on an emotional journey and that’s what you want in a film, to be stimulated emotionally and intellectually. “There’s many levels of storytelling, including an Indigenous component structured on Dreamtime, and I tell people if you don’t get it, watch it again because it’s a film you can go back, rewatch and find something new. “I want Australians to own it and raise it up. This is our story and we’ve got to support our Australian history.” Purcell is known already for her acting and writing chops, and the film has taken her to new heights as it was dubbed “exceptionally compelling” at the SXSW Film Festival in Texas and selected for opening night of the Melbourne International Film Festival and Sydney Film Festival. During its time on stage, Purcell’s version was labelled a “revelation” when it ran for 33 sold-out performances at Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre and won the top prize at the Australian Writers’ Guild’s AWGIE Awards. The story was one of her favourite stories read to her by her mother at just five years old. “I think it was the first time I could use my imagination and I put myself as that little boy,” she said. “My mother was that drover’s wife. “It just resonated with me.” The film has been named one of the five finalists for the CinefestOZ $100,000 Film Prize awarded by the festival’s jury, including actress Isla Fisher, on Saturday night. The awards recognises excellence in the craft of filmmaking from an Australian feature film or documentary. The opening event kicked off the highly anticipated film festival, where film buffs attended an in-conversation event with filmmakers and cast members at Eagle Bay Brewing. Students took to the red carpet on Thursday night to premiere their short films at the Cinesnaps grand finale followed by the premier of Nitram. Here Out West will premiere tonight in Busselton. Free community screenings will launch tomorrow from 9.30am, ending with the film prize gala.