Award-winning First Nations actor, writer, director and producer named as the first Māoriland Filmmaker in Residence.

Today, the first filmmaker selected for the Māoriland Filmmakers’ Residency will be announced at the opening night screening of the Māoriland Film Festival (MFF2022).

Filmmaker Leah Purcell is a Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka woman who will take up residence in Ōtaki later this year.  Purcell’s multi-award-winning feature film The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson is the opening night film of the 9th Māoriland Film Festival in Ōtaki this week.

Leah Purcell
Leah Purcell

A first for Aotearoa, the Māoriland Filmmakers’ Residency will host national and international Indigenous artists for up to three months at the Māoriland Hub in Ōtaki, during which they’re encouraged to develop or complete film projects, and to collaborate with Māori filmmakers and other artists. The inaugural residency is supported by Women in Film and Television (WIFT NZ).

The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson is based on the short story by Henry Lawson published around 1892. It was a book that Leah was read by her Aboriginal mother and, inspired by her mother’s stories of her family. Leah reinterpreted the story from an Indigenous woman’s perspective  and turned it into a play that won multiple theatre awards.

In a recent ABC program, Leah described the journey she went on for The Drover’s Wife like this “I wanted to put my Indigenous storytelling through it, my blood through the piece.”

From the theatre Leah wrote a novel of The Drover’s Wife that has also garnered her awards. And then to the feature film screenplay and Leah’s debut as a director.  

In a searing performance Leah plays the lead character Molly whom she describes as both the heroine and a woman who ultimately cannot alter the violence and racism of the time. “It’s about a mother’s love, it’s about women, it’s about family, survival, strength, determination,” explained Leah.

Māoriland Film Festival Director Libby Hakaraia is thrilled to have Leah and her producer husband Bain Stewart attending the Māoriland Film Festival for the screening of their film, supported by WIFT NZ. 

'The Drover's Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson' Film Poster
‘The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson’ Film Poster

“Leah is a groundbreaker for Indigenous filmmakers and especially for Indigenous women. She believed that the stories from her own land and from her own family had to be told and she found a way to do it across multimedia. In every telling she triumphed, and the feature film of The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson is not the end of the story!” said Libby.

Leah is in pre-production for a drama series of The Drover’s Wife and an Opera is also in the plans.

In amongst her hugely busy schedule Leah Purcell has accepted the offer to be the first Indigenous Filmmaker to take up the Māoriland Filmmaker Residency in September 2022.

With support from WIFT NZ, Women in Film and Television, Leah will be able to enjoy some creative time in the Māoriland Filmmaker Residence – a refurbished villa atop the Māoriland Hub, Centre for Excellence in Film and Creative Arts in Ōtaki.

“To have Leah take up the first Māoriland Filmmakers Residency is a big  part of our aim  to be inspired and connected to Indigenous storytellers and to one day create work together “ said Libby Hakaraia.

For more information contact [email protected]


A first for New Zealand, the Māoriland Filmmakers’ Residency will host national and international Indigenous artists for up to three months at the Māoriland Hub in Ōtaki. 

Indigenous filmmakers from across NZ and from around the world will be invited to apply for the residency to develop or complete film projects. They will be encouraged to collaborate with Māori filmmakers and other artists during their residency. Residents will also have the opportunity to share their skills and knowledge base, particularly with rangatahi participating in Māoriland projects.

The Māoriland Filmmaker’s Residency is a refurbished four-room villa within the Māoriland Hub. With views to Ōtaki Beach, the Māoriland Filmmakers’ Residency has been designed to be a place of retreat for busy creatives as they work towards their next project. 

The residency is supported by the Māoriland Charitable Trust and WIFT NZ.

Maoriland Full Shoot-571
Maoriland Full Shoot-589


The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson is Leah Purcell’s debut feature film as writer and director and Purcell also stars in the film as Molly Johnson. Filmed in late 2019, The Drover’s Wife the Legend of Molly Johnson was produced by Oombarra Productions’ Bain Stewart and Bunya Productions’ David Jowsey and Greer Simpkin (Sweet Country, Goldstone, Mystery Road).The film received major production investment and development support from Screen Australia, Screen Australia’s Indigenous Department and Create NSW.


Molly Johnson’s husband is away droving sheep, leaving her alone to care for their four children in the remote Snowy Mountains. Despite being heavily pregnant, Molly keeps various threats, from nature and other people, at bay. But when Yadaka, an Aboriginal man on the run from white law enforcement, intrudes on the sanctuary she has carved out, the brutal hardships and secrets that have followed them both throughout their lives must be confronted.


The purpose of WIFT NZ is to ensure women are welcomed, supported and thriving in an equitable screen industry.  WIFT NZ, Women in Film and Television Incorporated, is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to delivering education, professional development, networking and support services to women and others working in film, television and associated industries. WIFT is excited to be supporting this wonderful initiative from Māoriland.