When Australian films Friends and Strangers and Lone Wolf screened at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam this week, it was the culmination of a decade’s worth of work between their respective directors.
James Vaughan’s Friends and Strangers became the first Australian film to be shown as part of the event’s Tiger competition when it was screened on Wednesday, while Jonathan Ogilvie’s Lone Wolf had its world premiere as part of the Big Screen Competition the preceding day.
According to Vaughan and Ogilvie, both films took about five years to make.
Filmed in 2019 with mostly first-time actors, Friends and Strangers follows 20-somethings Ray and Alice as they navigate a series of increasingly awkward and comedic situations, from limp romantic encounters to bungled opportunities for professional growth.
Vaughan, who makes his feature debut with the film, said while the pandemic had delayed the film’s entry into the festival circuit, the disruption had allowed him to fine-tune elements of the project.
“It gave us more time on the edit, which I think we needed,” he said.
“One of the things about working independently and off your own savings is that the time you would like to have for production is just not the time you end up having.
“Production can be a matter of either time or money, and given this was made on a low budget, it became really important to devote a lot of time to it.
“The people that had the time to work on this were younger filmmakers and collaborators, who had the same energy and enthusiasm for the project.”
Bonsai Films has been secured as an Australian distribution partner for Friends and Strangers, although Vaughan admitted he did not know what shape the release would take.
“Even if it had a great festival life, I never saw this film as being shown in Australian cinemas with the ways things are at the moment,” he said.
“It would be great to have it screen at selected cinemas with some Q&As, as well as some of the festivals.
“That’s really the scope of our ambition for the release here.”
Adapted from Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel The Secret Agent, Ogilvie’s Lone Wolf stars Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Winnie, a young woman who, along with her brother Stevie (Chris Bunton), ends up being caught-up in a web of intrigue involving a bomb plot, inept anarchists, ambitious police and a corrupt politician.
Hugo Weaving plays the Police Minister who is implicated in the conspiracy.
The feature was initially conceived as 2D/VR hybrid but has since resorted back to 2D following extensive testing.
It will be released in Australia and New Zealand through Label, while LevelK will handle international sales.
Ogilvie told IF he had enjoyed seeing Conrad’s story connect with an international audience in Rotterdam, adding he wanted the film to be shown “in as many theatres as possible”, following a potential live premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) in August.
“We’ve made it very Australian, but that has translated to an international audience, which is thrilling,” he said.
“It’s obviously going to be a modest release but we’ve also got Marlon Williams in the cast, who is a New Zealand musician with some international renown, giving us hope of a New Zealand release as well.”
Coming up for Ogilvie is New Zealand and Australian co-production, Head South, which will focus on the New Zealand’s post-punk scene during 1979.
The project is currently undergoing financing.