Justin McMillan’s feature debut Sweet River will premiere as a Netflix Original on Saturday, a “dream come true” for the director.
The psychological thriller follows Hanna (Lisa Kay), who returns to the sleepy town of Billins, nestled deep in the sugar cane fields, where her four-year-old son Joey was abducted by notorious serial killer Simpkins (Jack Ellis), and is now presumed dead.
On hearing the news that Simpkins had died and her son’s DNA was found on his property, the emotionally damaged Hana rents a small farmhouse in the valley near to where Simpkins lived and mounts her own investigation.
Starring alongside Kay and Ellis are Martin Sacks, Genevieve Lemon, Chris Haywood, Rob Carlton, Baroo, Sam Parsonson, Bryan Roberts and Jeremy Waters.
The screenplay, which was written by Marc Furmie (Terminus) and Eddie Baroo (Black Sails, Son Of A Gun), is based on an original story by McMillan.
The film was produced by Ashley McLeod and distributed by FilmInk Presents. It is the third project the distributor has sold to Netflix this year, following on from Romance on the Menu and Hot Mess.
When COVID-19 broke out, McMillan had started to get worried that Sweet River would be “the film that no one saw”, so the Australia and New Zealand deal with streaming giant was a relief.
“When we first started this project, I never saw this as being anything other than a streamer film,” he told IF.
“I wanted it to be available on an internet platform purely because people seem to be so time poor these days that it is difficult to see them viewing content outside of a time that is convenient for them.
“It’s nice to have a Netflix acknowledge with an original tag as well, which is proof they liked it more than an acquisition.”
FilmInk Presents co-founder Lou Balletti told IF Sweet River deserved to be seen by a wide audience.
“We came on board Sweet River early in the piece, as we really identified with the film production’s haunting, noir-like beauty,” she said.
“When cinemas were forced to close their doors a few months back we were concerned that the film may fall victim to the closures like so many others, so when Netflix expressed interest in onboarding the production as a Netflix film, we were thrilled.
“Not only does Netflix have a massive reach, but their viewers seem to really identify with this genre.
“Given our business model is based on maximising audience potential, this was the perfect storm.”
Having been filmed across a small window at the beginning of the year, Sweet River‘s production was not affected by the subsequent lockdown.
McMillan said while he felt fortunate to be able to complete the film “before the world ended”, he was now in “the same boat as everyone else” in regards to navigating the new parameters of filmmaking.
“I’m not sure what the new rules are but I’m guessing there may be a shift towards projects where there is a proven track record, which will impact the calibre and style of films that are being made,” he said.
“I hope we are not witnessing the death of cinema as a craft because that was one of the key reasons why we all got into filmmaking.
“At the same time, it seems as though the easy road for any young filmmaker to have their work seen by more people is through a streaming service.”
McMillan’s previous directorial experience includes the 2017 short film Bouy, which he co-directed with Christopher Nelius, as well as the award-winning 2012 documentary Storm Surfers 3D, narrated by Toni Collette.