Simon Baker in ‘High Ground.’
Simon Baker, Callan Mulvey, Jack Thompson, Aaron Pedersen and newcomer Jacob Jnr Nayinggul are starring in High Ground, a 1930-set action-thriller directed by Stephen Johnson.
Inspired by true events and scripted by Chris Anastassiades, the frontier Western is shooting in Kakadu Park and Arnhem Land, produced by Maggie Miles, Yothu Yindi co-founder Witiyana Marika, Johnson, David Jowsey and Greer Simpkin.
Baker plays Travis, a bounty hunter and former soldier who enlists the help of Gutjuk (Nayinggul) a young Aboriginal orphan, to track down the most dangerous outlaw in the Territory – his uncle. During the manhunt a secret is revealed which ultimately pits them against each other.
Thompson is Moran, the head of the police outpost, with Mulvey as Ambrose, a police officer who fought with Travis in World War One, and Pedersen as a lethal black tracker from Queensland.
The cast also includes Caren Pistorious as Claire, the mission manager and teacher, Ryan Corr as Braddock, a priest who is Claire’s brother, John Brumpton, David Field and Andy McPhee.
Pedersen tells IF: “We haven’t seen a film like this before. It’s a resistance film which deals with the clash of cultures with colonial forces.”
Jacob Jnr Nayinggul, who hails from Gunbalunya and whose family are traditional owners, impressed the director and producers at auditions.
Renewing his collaboration with Anastassiades following Yolgnu Boy, Johnson said: “This is a story I have wanted to tell for a long time. I’ve worked in collaboration with Mandawuy Yunupingu, Witiyana Marika, Jonathan Nadji, Alfred Nayinggul and many families across Arnhem Land with a sole aim – to create an exciting action packed story for a wide audience that is both entertaining and confronting.”
The Paris-based sales agent Playtime is pitching the film to potential buyers at the American Film Market. Jowsey tells IF: “We have been meeting with the Playtime group at markets over time and they were very passionate about the screenplay for High Ground.”
Playtime co-founder Sebastien Beffa said: “We have been following Australian directors and writers for some time now. Stephen Johnson’s vision in High Ground is one of the most original stories that we have come across in recent years.”
Screen Australia provided major production investment with support from Maxo Studios, Screen Territory, Film Victoria, Bunya Productions and Savage Films. Madman Entertainment will distribute in Australia/New Zealand.
The project was first announced by the Northern Territory government in 2016 and initially was to have starred Guy Pearce and David Gulpilil as well as Thompson.
At the AFM Playtime is staging the world premiere of Fred Grivois’ Somalia-set hostage drama 15 Minutes Of War and launching sales on Emmanuel Hamon’s drama Escape From Rakka, starring Swann Arlaud as a man trying to extract his wife and son from Syria.
Its slate includes 5 is the Perfect Number, an adaptation of the Italian graphic novel by Igort, starring Toni Servillo and Valeria Golino, and Abdel Raouf Dafri’s drama The Breitner Commando, set during the Algerian war of independence. It’s also showing first footage of Francois Ozon’s By The Grace Of God, inspired by the victims of a Catholic priest in Lyon accused of sexually abusing boy scouts.