Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner in On the Beach.

When the distributor that had agreed to release Fallout pulled out, director Lawrence Johnston and producer Peter Kaufmann decided to self-distribute the documentary which celebrates the life and work of Australian novelist Nevil Shute.

That strategy entails a lot of time and effort to book cinemas but so far it’s paying off. Fallout premiered at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova on October 31 and ran for three weeks and it screened in Adelaide. The film opens on December 5 at the Dendy Newtown in Sydney and at the Arc cinemas in Canberra.

Johnston and Kaufmann are arranging four screenings at Melbourne’s ACMI in December/January and a one-off showing at the George Cinema in St Kilda on December 14. They’re discussing with exhibitors engagements in other states. International sales are being handled by Paris-based Melimedia.

The film focuses on Shute’s most famous work, On the Beach, which depicted the end of the world caused by nuclear war. The novel was turned into a Hollywood film in 1959, directed by Stanley Kramer, shot in Melbourne and starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins.

Johnston read the book at high school and later had ideas of doing a remake but he was pre-empted by Southern Star’s 2000 miniseries On the Beach, which was directed by Russell Mulcahy and starred Armand Assante, Rachel Ward, Bryan Brown and Jacqueline McKenzie.

He began developing the doc in the 1990s and interviewed Gregory Peck in 1997; that audio interview is in Fallout.  “I went off to make other films but after 9/11 and smaller nations entered into the nuclear equation I thought Shute’s novel seemed very prescient and added a contemporary resonance to the material,” he tells IF.

Johnston and Kaufmann secured the finance from Film Victoria and Screen Australia’s Signature Fund. Another motivation: this was the first doc to focus on Shute and Kramer.

Kramer’s film was released by United Artists on the same day in 18 countries, perhaps the first instance of a multiple-territories, day-and-date roll-out.

The director interviewed Kramer’s third wife Karen and one of his daughters, actress-producer Kat Kramer. Kat organised a screening of the doc in Los Angeles on November 13 as part of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of her father’s birth.

Next March the Melbourne Cinematheque will honour Johnston’s work, screening his films The Dream of Love, Eternity, Once a Queen and Life. It will be the 20th anniversary of Eternity, which he says was one of the first docs to be released theatrically in Australia. It was shot by Dion Beebe, a stepping stone to the DoP’s Hollywood career.

Johnston is developing a film which looks at the history and recent revival of neon with producer Veronica Fury. And he’s writing the screenplay entitled Love Me Tender, a fictional film based on his SBS doc The Dream of Love, which looks at the impact of a mixed marriage on two children, developed with producer Lizzette Atkins.

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