This may turn out to be a premature and fanciful call but 2014 is shaping as potentially one of the strongest years for Australian films, commercially and critically, in recent memory.
There are numerous grounds for optimism, starting with the overwhelmingly positive responses and, in some cases, deals for Tracks, The Railway Man, Wolf Creek 2, Felony and Canopy after their world premieres at either the Toronto or Venice film festivals.
Given the talent attached, the slate of films now shooting or in post-production looks highly promising, including Kill Me Three Times, The Rover, Son of a Gun, I, Frankenstein, Predestination, Charlie’s Country, Fell and Now Add Honey.
Added to that are several films from experienced filmmakers that are due to roll soon: Cut Snake, The Dressmaker and Paper Planes.
Industry figures whom IF consulted are bullish about the prospects for the year ahead. There is a “very good reason for such optimism,” says Damian Trewhella, CEO of the Australian Film Institute | Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts. “Recent festival responses/sales are very encouraging and there is such a volume and diversity of promising work on the horizon.”
Timothy White produced Julius Avery’s debut film Son of a Gun, a psychological thriller starring Brenton Thwaites, Ewan McGregor and Swedish actress Alicia Vikander. He tells IF, “There is a sense of confidence in the industry which runs across the board. We’re seeing a mix of talented filmmakers telling highly individual stories that show a dimension of the industry that we have not seen before.”
Robert Connolly produced Tim Winton’s The Turning, executive produced Zak Hilditch’s post-Apocalyptic thriller These Final Hours and later this year is directing children’s film Paper Planes. Connolly says, “I am incredibly optimistic about the industry, given the quality and diversity of work.”
“There is a lot heat around the slate,” says South Australian Film Corp. CEO Richard Harris, adding, “It may be too early to call it a renaissance, though, because who knows how many will actually resonate with audiences? A few years ago we had films that did [resonate] but also worthy films like Lore that didn't really. "
Harris gives a lot of credit to Screen Australia’s outgoing Head of Development Martha Coleman for helping to instil a “culture of creative discipline and rigour” during her tenure.
SPAA Executive Director Matthew Deaner says, “The Australian film industry is really hitting its strides with a plethora of fantastic films about to be released. Not only have we had a great Aussie line-up at TIFF (Toronto) with six films screening in the festival drawing great reviews, but many of the Australian films to be released over the next 12 months focus on universal stories with outstanding local and international talent. I’m optimistic they will attract strong audience support both here and abroad.”
Deaner indicated SPAA will continue to engage with the broader industry on the vexed issue of release windows for Australian films, stating, “It is important that we acknowledge that audiences expect more flexibility in the way in which they access content. With this in mind SPAA is continuing to work with the industry to explore the ways in which our films can reach their widest possible target audience."
The 2014 release schedule has a broad mix of genres although crime thriller seems the most popular genre. “It’s a good slate,” says Mike Baard, MD of Universal Pictures International, while lamenting the dearth of comedies, with the notable exception of Wayne Hope’s Now Add Honey.
Universal will release Jocelyn Moorhouse’s comic drama The Dressmaker, which toplines Kate Winslet and Judy Davis and will shoot in early 2014.
The Weinstein Co’s acquisition of US rights to Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man and John Curran’s Tracks virtually guarantees both will get a hefty marketing push and choice screens in the US.
Matt Saville’s thriller Felony got rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, particularly for the performances by Joel Edgerton, Tom Wilkinson and Jai Courtney.
Writer-director Aaron Wilson’s debut feature Canopy, set during the Japanese invasion of Singapore in WW11, got positive reactions in Toronto.
Greg Mclean’s Wolf Creek 2 had its world premiere in Venice after being pre-sold to every major territory except the US, where a deal is pending.
Robert Pattinson, Guy Pearce and Scoot McNairy star in Animal Kingdom director David Michôd’s crime thriller The Rover. Roadshow will release Wolf Creek 2, Felony, The Rover, Now Add Honey and These Final Hours.
EOne Hopscotch will distribute Son of a Gun; Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country; Tony Ayres' crime thriller Cut Snake, which stars Sullivan Stapleton, Alex Russell and Jessica de Gouw; and I, Frankenstein, Stuart Beattie’s Melbourne-shot contemporary fantasy thriller which sees Frankenstein’s monster protecting the human race against an uprising of supernatural creatures, featuring Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto, Socratis Otto, Jai Courtney and Caitlin Stasey.
Transmission is handling The Railway Man (which opens on Boxing Day), Tracks, Stephen Lance's My Mistress and, co-distributed with Footprint Films, Fell, a drama starring Matt Nable and Daniel Henshall from first-time director Kasimir Burgess, scripted by Natasha Pincus.
Pinnacle will release Peter and Michael Spierig’s Predestination, a time-travel thriller starring Noah Taylor, Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook.
Michael Favelle of production/distribution/sales agency Odin’s Eye Entertainment is handling Canopy. Surveying next year’s release schedule, he says, “On paper and in terms of the reactions to those festival films, it’s an incredibly strong line-up. Hopefully we will have an embarrassment of riches. This is no fluke because filmmakers are trying to make more commercial and appealing films.”
Favelle raises one potentially tricky issue, asking, “How many good Australian films can the local market cope with at any one time? Usually we avoid the tent-pole season and the [lead up to] Academy Awards. There’s a risk some films may get lost in the mix.”
Among other titles due for release next year are Craig Monahan’s drama Healing, John V. Soto's crime thriller The Reckoning, starring Luke Hemsworth, Jonathan LaPaglia and Viva Bianca, Nadia Tass' comedy The Menkoff Method, Michael Petroni's supernatural thriller Backtrack and, from first-time directors, Jennifer Kent’s psychological thriller The Babadook, Josh Lawson's sexy comedy The Little Death and Geoff Davis’ WW1 drama The Stolen.