James Cromwell and Jacki Weaver in ‘Never Too Late’. (Photo credit: Bradley Patrick).

Screen Australia’s head of content Sally Caplan rates 2019 as a good year for Australian films at home and abroad – and she is even more optimistic about the 2020 slate.

Having seen a sizable number of the upcoming Aussie releases in completed form, rough cut or in post, arguably she is uniquely placed to provide an overview.

“There is a lot of doom and gloom about films not working but they can work,” the six-year agency veteran tells IF. Here are her comments on a selection of the year’s releases, in no particular order.

Robert Connolly’s The Dry, which stars Eric Bana as a cop who returns to his drought-stricken hometown after 20 years to investigate an apparent murder-suicide committed by his childhood friend: “I’ve seen the locked cut and it’s looking great, based on a fantastic novel by Jane Harper.”

Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson, a re-imagining of Purcell’s play and the Henry Lawson short story, starring Purcell and Rob Collins.:”I’ve seen an assembly and the rushes look fantastic. There are some brutal elements but it’s life-affirming. You end up feeling hopeful and optimistic.”

Tony Tilse’s Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, which Roadshow Films is launching on February 27: “The highly successful series has translated exceptionally well to the big screen and Essie Davis is absolutely brilliant. We’re quietly confident about the box office potential and it’s truly a visual knockout. Fabulous escapism.”

Stephen Johnson’s Outback Western High Ground starring Simon Baker, Callan Mulvey, Jack Thompson, Aaron Pedersen and newcomer Jacob Junior Nayinggul, which has its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival: “This film tells an extraordinary story and is the result of a long collaboration between the creative team and the communities where it was filmed.

“In the capable hands of Bunya Productions producing alongside Witiyana Marika this film showcases remote parts of Outback Australia which both locals and internationals (including the Berlinale selectors) love to see on the big screen. It was a coup to have Simon Baker return to Australia for another film so soon after his directorial debut Breath.”

‘Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears’ (Photo credit: Ben King).

Unjoo Moon’s I Am Woman, the Helen Reddy biopic starring Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Evan Peters and Danielle Macdonald, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival: “Extraordinary.”

Flying Bark Production’s 100% Wolf, an animated comedy about a boy who expects to be turned into a werewolf on his 14th birthday but instead turns into a pink poodle, directed by Alexs Stadermann: “Kids will love it although some of its messaging will go over their heads. Their parents and grandparents will enjoy it because it’s quite clever.”

Mark Lamprell’s Never Too Late, the tale of four Vietnam veterans who are determined to break out of the nursing home from hell to fulfill unrealised dreams, featuring James Cromwell, Dennis Waterman, Shane Jacobson, Jacki Weaver and Jack Thompson: “It’s fun. I’ve been to a couple of test screenings and for the older audience it’s aimed at, particularly men who are not well served, the results were fantastic.”

Shannon Murphy’s bittersweet comedy Babyteeth, starring Ben Mendelsohn, Essie Davis and Eliza Scanlen, which premiered at the Venice International Film Festival: “Exciting.”

Jeremy Sims’ Rams, which stars Michael Caton and Sam Neill as feuding brothers who struggle to preserve their family’s legacy when the town’s sheep are threatened by a rare disease: “A lot of fun.”

JJ Winlove’s June Again, which stars Noni Hazlehurst as a family matriarch who tries to reconcile with her estranged children (Claudia Karvan, Stephen Curry), save the ailing family business and rekindle an old flame: “It’s a tale about dementia but it’s life affirming. I think it will appeal to the older audience.”

‘The Leunig Fragments.’

More broadly, Caplan is excited about the Screen Australia-supported TV drama, feature documentary, Indigenous and online slate.

Among the projects she highlighted are Matchbox Pictures and Dirty Pictures’ Stateless (ABC), Endemol Shine Australia’s drama on the Royal Flying Doctor Service (Seven Network) and children’s shows Hardball from Northern Pictures (ABC), SLR Productions’ Alice Miranda – A Royal Christmas Ball (Nine) and Space Nova (Nine, ABC) and season 2 of Ludo Studio’s Bluey (ABC).

The docs slate includes In Films’ Firestarter: The Story of Bangarra, directed by Wayne Blair and Nel Minchin, and The Leunig Fragements, Kasimir Burgess’ portrait of the enigmatic artist, which opens in cinemas on February 13 via Madman Entertainment.

The Gender Matters task force is being refreshed as the agency evaluates more than 90 applications including some from current members. The new task force is expected to comprise 15 members.

“We have new KPIs and we have to look at schemes and initiatives to keep the momentum going and get to parity,” she says.

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