Australian WWII drama wows the critics

10 September, 2013 by Don Groves

Writer-director Aaron Wilson’s debut feature Canopy has been lavishly praised by reviewers after its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Set during the Japanese invasion of Singapore in WW11, the thriller follows an Australian fighter pilot (Khan Chittenden) who is shot down in combat and is forced to navigate through enemy territory in search of sanctuary. Taiwanese actor Mo Tzu-Yi plays a Singapore-Chinese resistance fighter who joins him in the struggle to survive.


Virtually dialogue-free, the film produced by Katrina Fleming won plaudits for the high level of suspense, the two lead’s performances, Stefan Duscio’s photography and sound design by Rodney Lowe and Nic Buchanan.

The international sales rep, Odin’s Eye Entertainment’s Michael Favelle, told IF from Toronto, “We’ve had lots of interest and are fielding offers. We had to turn away people at the first press and industry screening as we were way over capacity.”

An Australia-Singapore collaboration, the film was completed just before the festival and hadn’t been shown to Australian distributors.

Typifying the warm reception from reviewers, IndieWire’s Kevin Jagernauth hailed the film as an “assured outing that takes a simple premise and turns it into a unique cinematic experience…. The film is stunningly and gorgeously shot by Stefan Duscio, who makes the surroundings almost otherworldly.”

Screen Daily's Frank Hatherley said, “Canopy is a short feature but it delivers authentic suspense and a powerful conclusion” and he predicted it will be a strong contender for international festival exposure.

In a similar vein, Variety’s Eddie Cockrell opined “this ravishingly shot first feature from rural Australian-born filmmaker Aaron Wilson… will spread among fests and find shelter with distribs eager to parlay the genre’s buzz into art house success.”

Cockrell continued, "The expressive, sweat-stained faces of Chittenden, who bears a striking resemblance to Matt Damon, and Mo, discovered by the filmmaker in the 2009 Taiwanese episodic drama A Place of One’s Own, sell the sense of fear and confusion.

"Every bit their equal behind the scenes are sound designers Nic Buchanan and Rodney Lowe, who have created a rich, complex and terrifying soundscape in which nature and war comingle in cacophonous symphony. The film was photographed in a remarkable eight days by Stefan Duscio, whose affilitations with Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty) have influenced his serene tracking shots and striking angles."

The Hollywood Reporter's Megan Lehmann said, "From an early POV shot through cracked goggles to the insistent squelch of mud beneath combat boots, writer-director Aaron Wilson maintains a remarkable realism throughout as he builds a lean and focused meditation on the bewildering nature of war. It’s a plucky and promising feature debut from the young Australian, who should find his carefully calibrated art house film in demand on the festival circuit following its premiere in the Discovery program in Toronto."

Twitch Film’s Todd Brown dissented, observing, “Canopy is a film that sets out to be an immersive experience and ends up settling for being an interesting experiment instead. That's not an entirely bad place to be, really, but it is less than what it could have been in surer hands.”